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.
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.
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 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 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.
— Wofford Athletics (@WoffordTerriers) May 18, 2016
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.
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.
— Pinehurst Resort (@PinehurstResort) May 10, 2016
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.