BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Rico Hoey can’t help but smile when he talks about Pinehurst.
It’s a good thing. If he keeps playing this way, he’ll be around a while.
Hoey recovered from a sluggish start to Wednesday’s second round of the 114th North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 8, but after difficult afternoon conditions, found himself sharing the lead after an even par 71 left him at 3 under for the championship.
It was as performance that kept the ever-smiling Hoey in good spirits following his round.
“I’m just having fun out there,” said Hoey, who had one of the best freshman seasons in Southern Cal history this year. “I’ve spent the last two days in a great group of guys, and everybody here is so easygoing. It’s just fun to play golf here. I’m just going to go with it and see where it takes me.”
“I’m just having fun out there. I’ve spent the last two days in a great group of guys, and everybody here is so easygoing. It’s just fun to play golf here.” – Rico Hoey
For a while it looked like he was taking himself down the leaderboard. Despite the benefit of a morning start, Hoey got the true taste of Pinehurst when he chipped up and off his first green, the 10th, then double bogeyed the par-4 14th, sliding to even par for the tournament.
“I started with the bogey, and had to remind myself, ‘Just be patient,’” he said. “Then I doubled 14, and I was like, ‘Now I really need to stay calm.’”
He did. Hoey, who at one point this season shot seven straight rounds in the 60s and was the Pac 12 Freshman of the Year, made three consecutive pars before a birdie on 18. He remained fully in control after that, making birdie on the par-5 second and then again on the 7th to play his last 10 holes in 3 under.
“I bounced back. I’m happy about that,” he said. “They were tough conditions. The wind was picking up, the pins were in tough spots, and this is a golf course that will kick your butt if you miss.”
Penn State rising junior J.D. Dornes didn’t miss much. After a 1-over-par 72 in the first round, Dornes, also playing in the morning, put together the round of the day on Wednesday, making five birdies on his way to a 4-under 67 to rocket up the leaderboard into a share of the lead with Hoey.
“I had two tap-in birdies, made three 12-footers, and never had a three-putt,” Dornes said. “On tough greens like these, I’ll take it.”
Like Hoey, Dornes played his final 10 holes in 3 under, making birdie at 9, 11 and 18.
“I scored today better than I have in a little while,” said Dornes, whose previous low round of the year at Penn State was 69. “I’ve put together two really solid rounds here, which is good for my confidence going forward.”
It was a very different day in the afternoon, as the wind stayed up and temperatures soared into the high 90s with the heat index topping 100 degrees. Just six players remained under par for the tournament after the afternoon rounds, and first-round leader Will Seger took the biggest hit, following his 65 on Tuesday with a second-round 76 that left at 1 under and two shots back of the leaders.
“It was a little bit windier, the greens were a little quicker and the pin placements were just as tough,” Seger said. “It’s tough to play two good rounds of golf out here.”
Still, Seger is tied for fourth and in great position to advance to match play.
The low 60 scores and ties made the cut for Thursday’s final stroke play round. The top 16 after Thursday will advance to match play to decide the 2014 North & South Champion.
“Coming into the tournament, after the practice round, if you had told me I could be 1 under with one round to go, I’d have been pretty pleased,” Seger said. “Considering I was 6 under to start the day makes it a little tougher, but really you’re just trying to be in the top 16. That’s the goal.”
Defending North & South champion Andrew Dorn will enter Thursday’s round just inside the final cut line for match play. Dorn shot another 1-over 72 Wednesday, leaving him at 2 over for the tournament and in a tie for 10th place.
Dorn, trying to become the first player to win the North & South back-to-back since Paul Simson in 1995-96, won the championship a year ago as the No. 16 seed.
“It’s all about survive and advance,” Dorn said. “I’m pleased with the way I’m playing. I’ve put myself in position to have a chance.”
Christopher Petefish shot 70 in the morning to move to 2 under and into third by himself, just one shot back of the leaders. Michael Cromie, who advanced to match play in the 2012 North & South, had one of the better afternoon rounds, shooting 70 to move to 1 under and share fourth with Seger and Blair Hamilton.
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.