The Nexus Risk TSA Group WA Open leaderboard is awash with West Australians as the Royal Perth layout rewarded experience on day one.
With a near-perfect round, West Australian Leaney, 48, reeled off nine birdies and just the one bogey on the way to firing an eight-under 64.
That was good enough for a three-stroke lead ahead of fellow long-time Royal Perth member Brett Rumford, and another West Aussie Daniel Hoeve, as the value of local know-how around the tight South Perth layout was clearly evident.
“I played well, which was surprising, because when I warmed up I literally did not hit one shot in the middle of the clubface,” Leaney said.
“So I wasn’t really sure what was going to happen. But it suddenly it clicked. I made a good swing down nine, the first hole and just sort of kept it going.
“I just played smart. Having played here so many times, it doesn’t always help but I know that you don’t have to go crazy off the tee around here. You’ve just got to keep it on the fairway.
“I think a lot of guys get caught up trying to blaze away around here but it’s not really the way to play it.”
Having played countless rounds at Royal Perth, Leaney’s tournament mindset paid dividends as he recorded his best round in a WA Open since before 2011.
“I come back to such familiar golf courses that I forget I’m actually playing a tournament,” he said. “I think in the past I’ve been a little bit too casual in my preparation.
“I just changed the way that I always played this golf course. I have always blazed away when I’ve been playing socially and I’ve never really thought about it.
“I thought long and hard last night about how I should play it and I adjusted the way I used to play the golf course and it worked.”
Curtis Luck began his title defence with a level-par opening round.
While there is a lot of golf still to be played, Leaney is hoping to record a victory for his children who aged 10 and 14 were too young to remember his most recent win at the 2004 WA Open.
“Actually my record the last few years hasn’t been good. I think I missed the cut the last three or four years because I just put too much pressure on myself to play,” he said.
“It would mean a lot to win again because I haven’t won for such a long time. Both my kids say, ‘Well, you haven’t won for a while dad, would you win a tournament again so we can see you hold a trophy?’.
“But that’s a long way off. It’s a good start and when I warmed up on the range this morning I really didn’t know what I was going to shoot.”
Playing alongside Leaney was Brett Rumford who relied on his course knowledge to combat some poor ball-striking off the tee.
Believing he left some shots on the course, Rumford still managed to fire a five-under 67 to be outright second.
“I didn’t drive it well and this golf course is all about driving. Steve just placed his ball all day and obviously just picked the place apart, did what you should do when you do drive it straight around here,” said ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth champion Rumford.
“I left a lot of shots out there because I just didn’t give myself the opportunities with wedges in my hand.
“I will be working on my driver this afternoon to get it going for tomorrow.”
Playing in the afternoon field, Hoeve, 25, was stoked to see his name join Rumford on the leaderboard at five under.
“It was out of the blue, I haven’t really done very well in these Tour events but I have been working hard and it is slowly coming together,” said Hoeve.
“I have never seen my name on the leaderboard like that before, it was really cool, I got a little bit nervous coming down the last.”
Rounding out the top-five, on four under after the first round are Michael Choi (Victori), Matthew Stieger (New South Wales), Tim Hart (Queensland), Michael Sim (WA), Damien Jordan (Queensland) and West Aussie amateur Zane Lewis.
Defending champion Curtis Luck fired an even-par round while LPGA graduate Hannah Green had two-over 74, to leave her still in contention to become the first female to make the weekend at an Australian men’s professional tournament.