Pinehurst Golf News Archive

Nothing comes easily for East Carolina’s Conover, who’s still standing at 116th North & South Amateur

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East Carolina’s Tim Conover had an exhausting day at the 116th North & South Amateur, but a triumphant one as well, advancing to the championship’s semifinals. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

After 39 holes of golf, Conover joins Cunningham, Whalen and Register in North & South semifinals

MATCH PLAY BRACKET

BY ALEX PODLOGAR

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Tim Conover stood on the 18th green 1-up in his Round of 16 match. In front of him, Nick Hardy lined up a birdie putt that was eerily similar to the line Payne Stewart had to win the 1999 U.S. Open.

Hardy, who made the cut in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and qualified for the Open two weeks ago at Oakmont, came into the 116th North & South Amateur with one of the better pedigrees in the field.

Of course he made the putt.

That extended the match to extra holes, and made one thing abundantly clear – nothing was going to be easy for Conover.

“It was a loooooonnng day,” drawled the exhausted East Carolina junior, who outlasted Hardy with a birdie on the 21st hole before playing all 18 and holding off Drexel’s Chris Crawford to advance in the North & South on Thursday on Pinehurst No. 2. “I mean, really long.”

Conover, who needed to survive a 7-players-for-5-spots playoff just to get into the match play portion of the event, will carry the highest seed remaining – No. 31 out of a possible 32 – into Friday’s semifinals where he’ll face North Carolina’s William Register.

The semifinals will begin at 7 a.m. on Friday. The championship match will begin at noon. Spectators are encouraged to attend and follow the matches. There is no charge for admission.

“It means a whole lot,” Conover said of making it to the championship’s final day. “There are a lot of big names up there, going way back to Francis Ouimet and Jack Nicklaus. It’s a lot of history, but I can’t really think about that. I have to try to beat the course, beat whoever I’m playing.

“But it’d definitely be the biggest tournament I’ve ever won. I’ve never won something like this.”

The semifinals will begin at 7 a.m. on Friday. The championship match will begin at noon. Spectators are encouraged to attend and follow the matches. There is no charge for admission.

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It’s doubtful anything can rattle Conover at this point. After missing a 3-footer for par that would’ve beaten Hardy on the first extra hole, Conover made a 22-footer for birdie on the second and 20th hole of the match. But Hardy made his own 20-footer right on top of that, extending the match again.

The short par-4 3rd played as a drivable par-4, and Hardy went for hit, hitting a strong drive into the right greenside bunker. Conover put his iron back into his bag on the tee before pulling it out again and playing safely to the fairway. While Hardy’s bunker shot came up 15 feet short, Hardy buried a slick 8-footer down the hill to win the match, letting loose a triumphant fist pump to match the audible “YES!” that came as the ball dropped into the cup.

“I knew if I could beat Nick, I can beat anyone,” Conover said of the match.

Conover, who beat N.C. State recruit Benjamin Shipp 2-up in the quarterfinals, has been a giant killer in match play. In the Round of 32 on Wednesday, he stunned second-seeded Tyler McDaniel. Should he advance to the championship, Conover could face 2015 North & South runner-up George Cunningham.

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2015 North & South Amateur runner-up George Cunningham returns to the championship’s final day. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Cunningham, who fought a balky driver during stroke play, has seen his game round into form during match play. After a comfortable victory on Wednesday, Cunningham was nearly perfect in his match against medalist and top seed Stephen Franken. Until Thursday, no one had played better during the championship than N.C. State’s Franken, who at one point played 50 straight holes in 5 under. But Cunningham was relentless and cruised 4 & 3 in the Round of 16 match.

“I played flawlessly,” Cunningham said of the match. “I hit two bad drives and one bad iron shot, but I didn’t miss a putt I needed to make. I literally didn’t make a mistake.”

Cunningham, who missed much of his sophomore season at Arizona battling injuries, is seeing his game come together at Pinehurst. He played a spirited match with Virginia’s Thomas Walsh in the afternoon, prevailing 2 & 1 after a brilliant birdie on the 513-yard par-4 16th to return to the championship’s final day.

“It helps under pressure to know I can hit these shots, that I have hit these shots,” Cunningham said. “It’s such a great event, and coming so close last year, it would really feel good to win.”

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Northwestern’s Andrew Whalen was perhaps the day’s best player on Thursday in advancing to the North & South semifinals. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Cunningham would have to first get through Northwestern’s Andrew Whalen, who was perhaps the day’s best player on Thursday. Whalen dismantled Duke sophomore Alex Smalley 6 & 5 in the Round of 16, then built an early lead with three straight birdies and kept the pressure on to beat Big East Player of the Year Lloyd Jefferson Go of Seton Hall 3 & 2.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the North & South, and I finally got the chance,” said Whalen, who’s playing in his first championship at Pinehurst. “And now, here I am.”

Register will try to become one of a long history of Tar Heels golfers to hoist the Putter Boy trophy. Register, who beat the No. 3 seed Joey Savoie in the morning, enjoyed two rather comfortable victories, beating both Savoie and Crawford 3 & 2.

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North Carolina’s William Register is trying to join a distinguished line of Tar Heels champions in North & South history. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Register is hoping to join the likes of fellow North Carolina North & South champions such as Harvie Ward, Davis Love III and Jack Nicklaus II.

“It’s awesome here,” said Register, who’s playing his second North & South. “So many great people have won, it’s amazing. It’d be awesome to have my name right there.”

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 – Walter Travis, Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.

116th North & South Amateur

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club

Pinehurst No. 2

June 27-July 1

Round of 32

June 29

No. 1 Stephen Franken, Raleigh, N.C. d. No. 32 Cameron John, Ferntree Gully, Australia, 5 & 4

No. 17 George Cunningham d. No. 16 Ryan Troyer, Dover, Ohio, 3 & 1

No. 25 Brian Ohr, Wheeling, Ill. d. No. 8 Trevor Sluman, Pittsford, N.Y. 3 & 2

No. 9 Thomas Walsh, High Point, N.C. d. No. 24 A.J. Beechler, Pinehurst, N.C., 19 holes

No. 29 Gray Townsend, Winston-Salem, N.C. d. No. 4 Andre Garcia, Mansfield, Texas, 3 & 2

No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, Philippines d. No. 13 Stoney Crouch, Mount Juliet, Tenn., 2 & 1

No. 5 Alex Smalley, Wake Forest, N.C. d. No. 28 Ryan Orr, Belleair, Fla., 1up

No. 21 Andrew Whalen, Ephrata, Wash. d. No. 12 Brandon Bauman, Las Vegas, Nev., 20 holes

No. 31 Tim Conover, Holly Springs, N.C. d. No. 2 Tyler McDaniel, Manchester, Ky., 2 & 1

No. 15 Nick Hardy, Northbrook, Ill. d. No. 18 Jonathan Brightwell, Charlotte, N.C., 4 & 3

No. 7 Benjamin Shipp, Duluth, Ga. d. No. 26 Daniel Wetterich, Cincinnati, Ohio, 6 & 5

No. 10 Zander Lozano, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas d. No. 23 Chris Korte, Littleton, Colo., 3 & 2

No. 3 Joey Savoie, Saint Leo, Canada d. No. 30 Craig Hornberger, Lancaster, Pa., 1up

No. 14 William Register, Burlington, N.C. d. No. 19 Joshua Martin, Pinehurst, N.C., 1up

No. 6 Chris Crawford, Bensalem, Pa. d. No. 27 Ryan Cornfield, Spartanburg, S.C., 1up

No. 22 David Kocher, Charlotte N.C. d. No. 11 Cole Ray, Raleigh, N.C., 8 & 6

Round of 16

June 30

No. 17 George Cunningham d. No. 1 Stephen Franken, 4 & 3

No. 9 Thomas Walsh d. No. 25 Brian Ohr, 2 & 1

No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go d. No. 29 Gray Townsend, 2 & 1

No. 21 Andrew Whalen d. No. 5 Alex Smalley, 6 & 5

No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 15 Nick Hardy, 21 holes

No. 7 Benjamin Shipp d. No. 10 Zander Lozano, 1up

No. 14 William Register d. No. 3 Joey Savoie, 3 & 2

No. 6 Chris Crawford d. No. 22 David Kocher, 2 & 1

Quarterfinals

June 30

No. 19 George Cunningham d. No. 9 Thomas Walsh, 2 & 1

No. 21 Andrew Whalen d. No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, 3 & 2

No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 7 Benjamin Shipp, 2up

No. 14 William Register d. No. 6 Chris Crawford, 3 & 2

Semifinals

July 1

No. 19 George Cunningham vs. No. 21 Andrew Whalen, 7 a.m.

No. 14 William Register vs. No. 31 Tim Conover, 7:10 a.m.

Championship

July 1

TBD, Noon

COURSE STATS

DAY 3 RECAP

ROUND 2 RECAP

ROUND 1 RECAP

 

 

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Cunningham gets his chance to play spoiler early in North & South match play

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Arizona’s George Cunningham tees off during Wednesday’s Round of 32 matches at the 116th North & South Amateur on Pinehurst No. 2. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Medalist Stephen Franken wins easily, now faces 2015 North & South runner-up

MATCH PLAY BRACKET

COURSE STATS

ROUND 2 RECAP

ROUND 1 RECAP

By ALEX PODLOGAR

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – A year ago, no one had played better in the North & South Amateur than George Cunningham – until the championship match.

That’s when Cunningham ran into Sean Walsh, who found a way to match Cunningham shot-for-shot before finally pulling away, dashing the medalist’s dreams of finishing what he started.

A year later, now it’s Cunningham’s chance to play spoiler.

The 2015 North & South runner-up made three straight birdies in the middle of his round to recover from an early 2-down deficit to advance Wednesday to the Round of 16 in 116th North & South Amateur, where he’ll face 2016 medalist Stephen Franken.

In a performance Cunningham finds familiar, N.C. State’s Franken has been the championship’s best player, finishing as the lone player under par after stroke play before dismantling the 32nd seed, Cameron John, of Australia, 5 & 4 on Pinehurst No. 2.

“I was a lot more solid today,” Franken said of his play, which included two birdies, an eagle on the 5th and no bogeys. “I really kept it in the right spots today. I felt like I played pretty similar to the last two days, but I definitely putted a lot better.”

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N.C. State’s Stephen Franken continued his stellar play on Wednesday at the North & South Amateur. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

But now he’ll have to contend with Cunningham, whose game is rounding into form at Pinehurst after a college season at Arizona nearly lost completely to injury. Cunningham competed in only three events this year, playing just nine rounds. Three of those nine rounds, though, were under par.

And while Cunningham only hit eight of a possible 28 fairways during stroke play, he found his driver in match play. Back at Pinehurst where he came so close to winning, Cunningham feels like it’s all coming back.

“I haven’t been playing well, but coming back here, I can remember the shots. I know I’ve hit them before and that I can do it again.” – George Cunningham

“Knowing I made it to the finals last year just gives me so much confidence,” he said. “I haven’t been playing well, but coming back here, I can remember the shots. I know I’ve hit them before and that I can do it again. I know I have those shots into these holes.”

Cunningham was down two through six holes to Ryan Troyer, the last player to make it into the North & South field after playing in the pre-tournament qualifier. But a bogey on the 8th hole was still good enough for Cunningham to win the hole, and then birdies on 9, 10 and 11 quickly put Cunningham back up two holes. The pair traded holes through 15, but a par on 17 helped Cunningham, happily finding fairways again, to a 3 & 1 victory.

“It helps being in the fairway,” Cunningham quipped. “It’s a different golf course from there.”

The Round of 16 and the championship’s quarterfinals will be played on Thursday. The semifinals and championship will be on Friday.

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Thomas Walsh made a dazzling birdie on the 19th hole to edge Pinecrest star and Pinehurst resident A.J. Beechler. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

There won’t be a Pinehurst connection on the final two days, however. Pinecrest star A.J. Beechler led Thomas Walsh 1-up when Beechler lipped out a birdie try on the 17th green, but a bogey on 18 and a slick Walsh birdie on the 19th hole – the par-4 1st – gave Walsh an unlikely victory.

“I don’t know what just happened,” said Walsh, who lingered on the first green to try to soak in the moment. “A.J., just a junior in high school – gosh, I wish I could have been where he is already. What a fighter. I hope he keeps his head up.”

“A.J., just a junior in high school – gosh, I wish I could have been where he is already. What a fighter. I hope he keeps his head up.” – Thomas Walsh

Fellow Pinehurst resident Josh Martin, who won the Donald Ross Junior three times, also lost in the Round of 32, falling to fellow North Carolina teammate William Register despite making a stirring comeback. Martin, who was 4 down through 12, won the 13th, then one-hopped a chip in for par from behind the 14th green to have the hole. Martin then won the next two holes with pars to trim the deficit to 1 down, but Register managed to hold on.

David Kocher, who won the 2014 North & South Junior and recently reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot, had the easiest day, beating Cole Ray 8 & 6.

Nick Hardy, who made the cut at the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and shot 68 on the final day, also advanced, defeating Jonathan Brightwell 4 & 3. Hardy also played in the U.S. Open at Oakmont a couple of weeks ago.

In the championship’s biggest upset, East Carolina’s Tim Conover clipped No. 2 seed T.J. McDaniel 2 & 1 to move on to the Round of 16, which begins with matches at 7 a.m.

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 – Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.

116th North & South Amateur

Pinehurst Resort & Country Club

Pinehurst No. 2

June 27-July 1

Round of 32

June 29

No. 1 Stephen Franken, Raleigh, N.C. d. No. 32 Cameron John, Ferntree Gully, Australia, 5 & 4

No. 17 George Cunningham d. No. 16 Ryan Troyer, Dover, Ohio, 3 & 1

No. 25 Brian Ohr, Wheeling, Ill. d. No. 8 Trevor Sluman, Pittsford, N.Y. 3 & 2

No. 9 Thomas Walsh, High Point, N.C. d. No. 24 A.J. Beechler, Pinehurst, N.C., 19 holes

No. 29 Gray Townsend, Winston-Salem, N.C. d. No. 4 Andre Garcia, Mansfield, Texas, 3 & 2

No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, Philippines d. No. 13 Stoney Crouch, Mount Juliet, Tenn., 2 & 1

No. 5 Alex Smalley, Wake Forest, N.C. d. No. 28 Ryan Orr, Belleair, Fla., 1up

No. 21 Andrew Whalen, Ephrata, Wash. d. No. 12 Brandon Bauman, Las Vegas, Nev., 20 holes

No. 31 Tim Conover, Holly Springs, N.C. d. No. 2 Tyler McDaniel, Manchester, Ky., 2 & 1

No. 15 Nick Hardy, Northbrook, Ill. d. No. 18 Jonathan Brightwell, Charlotte, N.C., 4 & 3

No. 7 Benjamin Shipp, Duluth, Ga. d. No. 26 Daniel Wetterich, Cincinnati, Ohio, 6 & 5

No. 10 Zander Lozano, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas d. No. 23 Chris Korte, Littleton, Colo., 3 & 2

No. 3 Joey Savoie, Saint Leo, Canada d. No. 30 Craig Hornberger, Lancaster, Pa., 1up

No. 14 William Register, Burlington, N.C. vs. No. 19 Joshua Martin, Pinehurst, N.C., 1up

No. 6 Chris Crawford, Bensalem, Pa. vs. No. 27 Ryan Cornfield, Spartanburg, S.C.

No. 22 David Kocher, Charlotte N.C. d. No. 11 Cole Ray, Raleigh, N.C., 8 & 6

Round of 16

June 30

No. 1 Stephen Franken vs. No. 17 George Cunningham 7 a.m.

No. 25 Brian Ohr vs. No. 9 Thomas Walsh, 7:08 a.m.

No. 29 Gray Townsend vs. No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, 7:16 a.m.

No. 5 Alex Smalley vs. No. 21 Andrew Whalen, 7: 24 a.m.

No. 31 Tim Conover vs. No. 15 Nick Hardy, 7:32 a.m.

No. 7 Benjamin Shipp vs. No. 10 Zander Lozano, 7:40 a.m.

No. 3 Joey Savoie vs. No. 14 William Register, 7:48 a.m.

Vs. No. 22 David Kocher, 7:56 a.m.

Quarterfinals

June 30

Matches begin at 12:30 p.m.

Semifinals

July 1

TBD

Championship

July 1

TBD

 

 

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N.C. State’s Franken wins medalist honors at 116th North & South

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N.C. State golfer Stephen Franken shakes hands with his caddie after making birdie on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2 and closing his round as the medalist in the 116th North & South Amateur. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Championship now shifts to match play on demanding Pinehurst No. 2

MATCH PLAY BRACKET

STROKE PLAY SCORES

COURSE STATS

ROUND 1 RECAP

By ALEX PODLOGAR       

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Leave it to an N.C. State guy to take advice from a Duke grad.

Bob Stanger, a former Duke standout who played in a number of North & South Amateurs in the 1970s, would often tell his hard-working nephew: Just birdie the last.

Stephen Franken put his uncle’s advice to good use on Tuesday, closing what was a brutally difficult day of golf with a birdie on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2. As the 25-foot putt dropped, Franken pumped his fist in the shadow of the Payne Stewart statue behind the green to put the finishing touches on a brilliant two days that left him as the championship’s medalist with a two-day total of 1-under 139.

“My uncle would always tell me – and he played out here all the time – just birdie the last,” said an effusive Franken, who is the lone player under par after two rounds of stroke play in the 116th North & South Amateur. “It doesn’t matter how you’re playing, he’d say, just birdie the last. And that one felt really good.”

“Somebody shot 139?!” one player bellowed incredulously at the scorer’s table at one point. “How many holes did he skip?”

On a day like this, it should have. As tough as No. 2 played in Monday’s first round, it was even more demanding on Tuesday, especially with much of the round mired in intermittent rain, including several heavy downpours that led to two lengthy weather delays. No. 2 averaged a round of 77.2 and surrendered just three under par rounds.

“Somebody shot 139?!” one player bellowed incredulously at the scorer’s table at one point. “How many holes did he skip?”

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It helped that Franken shook off a bogey on the tough 2nd hole with an eagle on the par-4 3rd. Franken jarred his approach from 116 yards out in the fairway, a shot that Franken said sparked what was to come.

“It was one hop. I dunked it,” Franked quipped. “And that got me really fired up. It was just pure.”

Franken bogeyed the 4th, but came back with a birdie on the par-5 5th before finishing his last 11 holes with two bogeys and two birdies. On this day, it was a monumental achievement.

“I knew I just had to stay patient,” he said. “I knew there were going to be a lot of pars and bogeys, and when I did have a birdie opportunity, to really try to take advantage of them. I just can’t tell you how much I love this course. The challenge is incredible.”

“I just can’t tell you how much I love this course. The challenge is incredible.” -Stephen Franken

Indeed. Several of the championship’s pre-tournament favorites will not continue. After the second round, the field was cut to 32 as the championship shifts to match play. On the outside looking in include defending champion Sean Walsh, Clark Engle, Will Grimmer and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Champion Andrew Buchanan. First-round leader Alex Smalley will advance, but shot a second-round 76 to fall to fifth.

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Stephen Franken stands with his medalist Putter Boy trophy at Pinehurst’s famed Payne Stewart statue.

Tyler McDaniel shot a pair of 71s to finish second in stroke play, three shots back of Franken. Joey Savoie and Andre Garcia were another stroke back at 3-over 143.

And there were flashes of brilliant play. Zander Lozano, a junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, fired the round of the day with a 2-under 68 that included five birdies. Lozano, who began the day tied for 54th after an opening 79, enters match play as the tournament’s 10th seed.

Asked to put the round into words, Lozano was almost at a loss.

“Um, that’s kinda tough,” he said.

“I just played really well, and tried to stay conservative all day. But it was a grind out there.”

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Zander Lozano

Lozano’s faced tougher challenges already this week. On the 3rd hole in the first round, Lozano realized he had one club too many in his bag, leading to a four-stroke penalty. That meant what he thought was an eagle 2 to start his championship was actually the world’s greatest par on No. 2 – he holed his approach shot from 175 yards – and that his bogey on the 2nd was now a triple.

“That was a kick to the stomach,” he said Tuesday.

Nick Hardy, who has played in the last two U.S. Opens and made the cut at Chambers Bay, tying for 52nd, was the only other round under par on Tuesday after a 69. He moved from a tie for 54th with Lozano to the championship’s 15th seed.

Two players from Pinehurst reached match play, with three-time Donald Ross Junior Champion Joshua Martin earning the 19th seed after tying for 12th.  A.J. Beechler shot rounds of 75 and 74 to take the 24th seed.

The Round of 32 will be played on Wednesday afternoon. From there, two rounds of match play will take place over the following two days, with the semifinals and the finals on Friday.

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 – Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.

 

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While Kocher reminisces, Duke’s Smalley takes 2-shot lead at 116th North & South Amateur

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David Kocher, right, is two shots back of Duke’s Alex Smalley after the first round of the 116th North & South Amateur at Pinehurst. (Photo by the USGA)

Pinehurst No. 2 lives up to its reputation in the first round of the 116th North & South Amateur

LIVE SCORING

GROUPINGS

COURSE STATS

BY ALEX PODLOGAR       

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – David Kocher would always check first. He’d peer out of his grandmother’s door, scan to the left, to the right, look back and then back to the front. He’d canvass the fairway, past the green and the next tee, and hunt for movement. Look for the cart. Look for the ranger sign.

Then…GO.

For some kids, trips to a grandparent’s house might invoke anticipation of cookies still warm enough to match the hugs. For Kocher, a trip his grandmother’s house on the 5th hole of Pinehurst No. 5 meant one thing – Golf.

“Oh, never on No. 2,” he said of sneaking out to play. “I wish, but that would’ve been pretty scary.” -David Kocher

“I used to always play the holes around the house,” said Kocher, who shot an even par 70 Monday on Pinehurst No. 2 to share second place behind Duke’s Alex Smalley after the first round of the 116th North & South Amateur. “All the time on 5, I’d be looking for rangers, and they’d always tell me to back up off the course. I’ve been out there in my swimsuit, even.”

Of course, Kocher always knew where to draw the line.

“Oh, never on No. 2,” he said of sneaking out to play. “I wish, but that would’ve been pretty scary.”

No. 2, host of more single golf championships than any site in America, was plenty scary for most of the field. The average score was 76.04, and many of the championship’s pre-tournament favorites struggled mightily. Defending champion Sean Walsh shot 78 while Will Grimmer had a 76. Clark Engle, who was the No. 2 seed after stroke play a year ago, shot 78. And Andrew Buchanan, who teamed with Ben Baxter to win the 2016 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Winged Foot last month, had an 81.

“It was tough out there,” said Grimmer, who recorded Pinehurst’s only 59 in the North & South Junior in 2013, a year before Grimmer returned to play No. 2 in the 2014 U.S. Open.

AlexSmalleyDuke

Duke’s Alex Smalley

No. 2 was so tough that even though he had the lone under par round of the say, Smalley was talking about how good his misses were.

“I had a great caddie, and if I didn’t hit the shot I wanted to, he made sure we left ourselves in a good position for a chip back,” said Smalley, a sophomore at Duke playing in his second North & South. “I had a lot of really good misses and really good chances to get up and down.”

That caddie, Pinehurst’s Brad Yutzy, knows a thing or two about No. 2 playing its toughest. He helped guide Stephanie Meadow to a third-place finish in the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open.

And there were more hits than misses for Smalley, who began his round on the 10th hole. After struggling to find the fairway early, Smalley was 1-over at the turn. But he made three straight birdies and four in a stretch of five holes to rocket to 3 under, finishing with a bogey on 8 – the toughest hole of the day as a 502-yard par-4 – and a par on 9 for the 2-under 68.

Alex.Smalley

Alex Smalley

Smalley said he won’t change his approach for the second round. The North & South will cut to the top 32 players after Tuesday’s second round to determine the match play bracket. The championship will be decided on Friday.

“It went pretty well today, so I don’t know why I’d want to change anything,” Smalley said. “It’ll be the same thing; if we get off the fairways, we’ll have to think about where the miss will be.”

Kocher, who won the 2014 North & South Junior and just finished his sophomore season at Maryland, had one of the day’s cleanest scorecards: two front-9 birdies and two back-9 bogeys. Still, it could’ve been even better for Kocher, who teamed with Doc Redman to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Winged Foot.

“It could’ve been a lot lower,” he said. “I had it in there close early but couldn’t make them. I missed a 4-footer on 9, a 4-footer on 10 and a 4-footer on 18. I guess I need to go practice my short putting.

“But it was a heck of a way to start. I’ll take a 70.”

Kocher was tied with two other players two shots back of Smalley, N.C. State golfer Stephen Franken and the University of Denver’s Chris Korte, who made the field after finishing second in the tournament’s qualifier on Pinehurst No. 8 on Saturday.

Franken.Stephen

Stephen Franken

“I avoided big numbers and just took my medicine when I was in trouble,” Franken said. “It’s what you’ve got to do out here. It’s a tough course and it’ll get you.

“But I love it. I love Donald Ross courses. I love how he designs them and how he makes you hit shots and makes you create. You really have to think your way around. You can’t just throw it at the pin. You really have to think about where the pin is and place it in the right spot so you can make par. And you know everybody’s making bogeys, too. Whenever I had a couple of bad holes, I was able to get over them pretty easily. It’s happening to everybody.”

Pinehurst’s Joshua Martin had a solid day with a 1-over 71 to share fifth place with seven others while Redman, who won the N.C. State 4-A Championship on No. 8 last month, had a 72, as did George Cunningham, the 2015 North & South runner-up and medalist. Eric Bae, who lifted local school Pinecrest to the state 4-A team championship with a birdie on the 18th hole of No. 8, had a 73.

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 – Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.

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116th North & South Amateur – The Contenders

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Sean Walsh returns as the North & South Amateur defending champion.

ROUND 1 RECAP

GROUPINGS

LIVE SCORING

Sean Walsh is the defending North & South Amateur champion. Andrew Buchanan is coming off a USGA championship. Surely one of them should be considered the tournament favorite for the championship, which begins Monday for 116th consecutive year.

Or the favorite could be any number of players with past North & South experience, especially with the championship returning to the demanding Pinehurst No. 2 for all rounds. Or it could be a player with a combination of North & South and USGA championship experience.

Or, it could be anyone at all in the deep field, much like Walsh himself, who despite a strong junior season at Gonzaga in 2015 came into the North & South under the radar before beating George Cunningham 3 & 1 to earn his first Putter Boy trophy.

Here’s our attempt to highlight some of the top contenders for the 116th North & South Amateur. And if you don’t see the name of the eventual champion here when you check back on Friday, it wouldn’t be anything new.

But, after seeing this list, it will certainly have been impressive.

Walsh 3

Sean Walsh

THE CONTENDERS

SEAN WALSH You have to start with Walsh. He was the sixth seed in 2015 entering match play, but was steady throughout the second half of the tournament, knocking out second-seeded Clark Engle in the semifinals and then taking down George Cunningham in the final. No one had played better the entire week than Cunningham until Walsh matched him shot for shot in the final, wearing Cunningham down. It’s Walsh’s third North & South, and he’ll try to become the first to win back-to-back championships since legend Paul Simson in 1995-96.

GEORGE CUNNINGHAM Cunningham is back, and after rounds of 70-69-73 for a 2-over 212 to earn medalist honors on No. 2 a year ago, he has to be considered a threat again this year. Cunningham, too, was already in Pinehurst a week before the first round.

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Andrew Buchanan, right, poses with the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball trophy with partner Ben Baxter. (Photo by Golf Digest)

ANDREW BUCHANAN  In 2017, Pinehurst will host the 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship. Among those in the field will be the defending champions – Ben Baxter, and Buchanan, who is seeking to win at Pinehurst 11 months ahead of time. Buchanan has won at Winged Foot within the last month. He’ll be ready for No. 2.

CLARK ENGLE Prepare for a run of U.S. Amateur Four-Ball success stories who are in the North & South field. Engle shot 3-over 213 on No. 2 to finish a stroke out of medalist honors a year ago, and reached the semifinals. He also reached match play of the Four-Ball at Winged Foot with…

Will Grimmer 59

Will Grimmer became the first player in Pinehurst history to shoot 59 in a competitive round, hitting golf’s magic number on Pinehurst No. 1 in the 2013 North & South Junior. A year later, Grimmer played in the 2014 U.S. Open on Pinehurst No. 2.

WILL GRIMMER Coming off a strong freshman season at Ohio State (along with Engle), Grimmer returns to the place he first made his name in golf. Three years ago, Grimmer recorded the first 59 in competition in Pinehurst history at the North & South Junior, and after reaching match play a year ago, Grimmer returns to try to win his first Putter Boy. Grimmer, who also played in the 2014 U.S. Open on No. 2, has an affinity for Pinehurst like few others. He’s gunning for this championship.

COLE HAMMER The name is familiar, right? At 15, Hammer qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay in 2015. That’s good enough to be considered a contender in the North & South.

David.Kocher

David Kocher won the 2014 North & South Junior.

DAVID KOCHER Keep an eye on Kocher, who won the North & South Junior in 2014 before starring at Maryland in his freshman season. Kocher also advanced to match play at the Four-Ball at Winged Foot, and with a Putter Boy already, Kocher will try to become the second player in Pinehurst history to win both the North & South Junior and the North & South Amateur. Michael Cromie became the first with his North & South Am win in 2014.

DOC REDMAN A native of Raleigh, Redman is another young name to watch this week. He also has considerable hardware from Pinehurst already. A month before reaching match play in the Four-Ball, Redman won the N.C. 4-A State Championship at Pinehurst No. 8. Redman has the game win the North & South.

ANDREW NOVAK Novak won a 6-for-1 playoff to make match play a year ago. He also went viral this year after making a 100-foot putt in the NCAA Tournament. And he’s a great quote. Good enough for us.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

At the risk of appearing as though we are just listing the rest of the field, there is so much past experience and strong play throughout the field, the list of players capable of emerging on Friday as the champion is considerable. A few names with quick notes:

Josh Martin He won three Donald Ross Junior Championships. Martin is a favorite anytime he tees it up at Pinehurst.

Easton Paxton He won the 2015 North & South Junior, and living in Wyoming, he only plays golf six months a year. But he can play.

A.J. Beechler From Pinehurst, plays at Pinehurst often. Be wary.

Eric Bae See above. He also drained a 12-foot putt on 18 on Pinehurst No. 8 to lift hometown school Pinecrest to a state championship – by a single shot. He’s got a grinder’s guts.

Harley Abrams, Max Greyserman and Alex Smalley All have considerable North & South experience.

Will the 116th North & South Amateur Champion come from this list?

Pinehurst No. 2, in a few days, will let us know.

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