BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – On July 4th at the 114th North & South Amateur, it was good to be Canadian.
Corey Conners, the No. 7-ranked amateur in the world who hails from Listowel, Ontario, was only the most dominant player in advancing to the North & South semifinals.
And how did fellow Canadian – and No. 16 seed – Blair Hamilton keep up? By first knocking off the top-seeded Rico Hoey in the morning’s Round of 16 before winning two holes to rally past 17-year-old junior golf phenom Austin Connelly in 19 holes.
Conners and Hamilton will join Georgia All-American Michael Cromie, a native of nearby Cary, N.C., and Lehigh’s Harley Abrams in the semifinals, with the chance of meeting for an all-Canadian final in the North & South Championship round on Saturday afternoon at Pinehurst No. 8.
“This is such a great event,” said Hamilton, who plays collegiately at Houston. “It’s one of the best events in North America. It’s hard to get into, and when you get an invitation, you don’t turn it down. Who doesn’t want to come to Pinehurst? It’s Pinehurst.”
And it’s a place Conners made his mark as recently as a year ago. Conners led early in the 2013 North & South and entered match play as the No. 3 seed. He fell in the Round of 16, but made it a point to return for a chance at winning the coveted Putter Boy trophy.
“I played well last year, but it didn’t work out, and I just wanted to come back,” said Conners, who won the prestigious Jones Cup in February and set a slew of records while at Kent State. “I love Pinehurst, and I love the courses here. The names on that trophy are legends of the game, so to have my name there would be pretty special. It’d be a great honor and pretty proud moment.”
If he plays anything like he did on Friday, Conners’ name will live on in Pinehurst lore.
After shooting a 68 in Thursday’s final round of stroke play to storm into the top 16 and qualify for match play, Conners marched through his two matches with ease on Friday. He dusted defending champion Andrew Dorn 7&6 in the Round of 16, making four birdies to build a 6 up lead through six holes.
He then ripped open a 5 up lead through 9 over Indiana’s David Mills before finally dispatching him 4&3.
“I got off to a blistering start,” Conners said. “It felt like I was 1-putting every green, which helps.”
Conners will take on Lehigh’s Harley Abrams in the semifinals on Saturday morning. Abrams went 18 holes in both of his matches – he recruited his father to caddy for him in the afternoon round as temperatures neared 90 – and clipped Georgia Tech’s Chris Petefish 2 up in the morning before holding off first-round leader and No. 2 seed Will Seger 1 up in the afternoon.
“I have to say, I’m pretty exhausted right now,” said Abrams. “That was pretty grueling.”
“I’ve always wanted to play in this tournament since I was a little kid,” he said. “I remember I was at a camp when I was 12 or 13, and I came over to No. 2 to watch the North & South. I walked through the clubhouse, got my picture with the Payne Stewart statue. I was happy enough just to make the cut here, and now here I am.”
Hamilton also had a long day, though it began on cruise control. Seeking to become the second straight 16 seed to win the North & South, Hamilton opened up a 4 up lead on Hoey through 14, only for the Southern Cal star to make a furious charge to creep within 1 down at the 18th tee. But Hamilton held on for the 2 up victory to advance to the quarterfinals, where he survived a back-and-forth match with the junior Connelly.
“I was able to just hang in there,” Hamilton said. “That’s the thing about match play – you can’t stop fighting until it’s over.”
Hamilton will face Cromie, who won the 2007 North & South Junior. Cromie made match play as the No. 2 seed in the 2012 North & South and returned to Pinehurst after a stellar senior season at golf factory Georgia.
A win in the North & South would be extra special for Cromie, he said.
“I was born and raised in Cary, and I’ve lived in the same house all of my life, and so Pinehurst means a ton to me,” he said. “I understand the history and the significance of it. I just…I just love this place.”
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutive-running amateur golf championship in the United States. Over the past century, the best in the golf world have vied for its coveted Putter Boy trophy. The winners now serve as legends in the game –Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange, Davis Love III and Corey Pavin, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.
114TH NORTH & SOUTH AMATEUR
ROUND OF 16
No. 16 Blair Hamilton d. No. 1 Rico Hoey 2up
No. 8 Austin Connelly d. No. 9 Sam Bernstein 2&1
No. 4 Will Cromie d. No. 13 Jarrod Freeman 2&1
No. 12 Carr Vernon d. No. 5 J.D. Dornes 2up
No. 2 Will Seger d. No. 15 Nick Pandelena 2up
No. 10 Harley Abrams d. No. 7 Chris Petefish 2up
No. 14 David Mills d. No. 3 Chris Hemmerich 1up
No. 11 Corey Conners d. No. 6 Andrew Dorn 7&6
No. 16 Blair Hamilton d. No. 8 Austin Connelly 19 Holes
No. 4 Michael Cromie d. No. 12 Carr Vernon 1up
No. 10 Harley Abrams d. No. 2 Will Seger 1up
No. 11 Corey Conners d. No. 14 David Mills 4&3
PINEHURST NO. 8
No. 16 Blair Hamilton vs. No. 4 Michael Cromie 7:30 a.m.
No. 10 Harley Abrams vs. No. 11 Corey Conners 7:40 a.m.
PINEHURST NO. 8
TBD, 1 p.m.