INVERNESS, Nova Scotia — A stiff wind at their backs and four of the five donning Cabot Cape Breton toques, Craig Younker, Mike Johnson, Mark Johnston, Nick Vautour and PGA of Canada professional Connor Shea kicked off the RBC PGA Scramble on Sunday morning at Cabot Links.

The shorter the commute to Cabot, the earlier the tee time in the first of three rounds, so the team representing the Hampton Golf Club outside Saint John drew the opening assignment.

“This might go 10 feet,” chuckled Vautour, an operator at Irving Oil and his squad’s leadoff hitter, before stepping to the tee. (He hit it farther than that.)

They are at the national final because Johnston, a procurement specialist at Irving, drilled a 30-footer for birdie on the 18th hole to win their regional qualifier at P.E.I.’s Mill River Resort by .2 points.

“Big underdog,” Johnston smiled before his group got going. “We weren’t supposed to win that. It feels like fate.”

And wouldn’t you know it, Team Hampton has the Day One lead here thanks to a scorching 19.5-under round.

“Off the tee we were pretty solid, putts were rolling really true out there,” said Johnston. “We sank some big putts that we probably had no business sinking but they were rolling really good today.”

“It was absolutely incredible,” added Younker, a dentist. “Just a different kind of golf that we’ve just never really had a chance to play before. Kind of adapting the way that you swing the club. The caddies really help and even having (Shea) coach us through, it was really, really cool.”

Hampton has a .4 lead over the squad representing P.E.I.’s Belvedere Golf Club, though that team’s four amateurs — Ryan Thurrot, Mark Brown, Adam McGaghey and Colin Armstrong —all hail from New Brunswick as well. They’re being led by Belvedere head pro, Jamie Moran, who joked that the boys came to P.E.I. to qualify because they weren’t welcome in their own province.

“It was very difficult out there,” said Moran of the conditions, “but we all made some putts, which was nice, and when we were in trouble, someone would step up and hit the shot when we needed it and it was just a great effort in these conditions. We’re ecstatic with it.”

Belvedere is .6 strokes up on one of two teams here from Cobourg, Ont.’s Dalewood Golf Club. There are fractions on the leaderboard because the tournament scoring structure is as such: Teams get 25 per cent of their lowest amateur’s handicap; 20 per cent of their second lowest; 15 per cent of their third lowest; and 10 per cent of their highest. Teams then get 75 per cent of whatever number that totals.

The system is designed to keep the handicapped event equitable and to negate ties, but while there is very much a championship on the line this week at Cabot Cape Breton, the joy of making a once-in-a-lifetime trip to the country’s greatest golf playground with your best pals is the heartbeat of the scramble.

“It’s kind of feeling like a kid again, competing, and it feels good, and to come out here and play really well, it’s been great so far,” said Team Belvedere’s McGaghey.

That was evident during the excitement at the Avion Collection Night Golf Challenge on Saturday and in the revelry in Whit’s Public House afterwards. There may have even been a few beverages cracked before any balls were hit Sunday.

“We’re stoked,” said Tyler Kristiansen of Team Talking Rock, which qualified out of Kelowna, B.C.’s Black Mountain Golf Club in mid-August, before his round. “We’ve been counting down the days for sure.”

Indicative of the various characters here this week, Team Talking Rock includes two squash pros among its four amateurs — Adam Terheege and Joey Forster. “Washed-up squash pro,” clarified Terheege, now a salesman in the Okanagan Valley. The native of England is in just his third year of playing golf but was a key cog in Talking Rock qualifying for nationals with his 29-handicap.

Standing on the putting green and taking in the setting of Cabot Links, Terheege said he’d never seen anything like it in his life.

“Can’t wait to get going,” he stated.

All 20 teams are going now, and tomorrow the drama will be ratcheted up another notch when they tackle Canada’s No. 1 course, Cabot Cliffs.