Will Grimmer leads after the first round of the North & South with the best recorded score by an individual on No. 2 since Martin Kaymer’s first and second round 65s during the Open
By Alex Podlogar
PINEHURST, North Carolina – For a moment, Will Grimmer thought it might be happening again.
And that was even after a bogey on the first hole to open the 117th North & South Amateur on Monday on Pinehurst No. 2.
“I bogeyed the first hole, and when I walked off the seventh green I was 5 under par,” Grimmer said incredulously after his rollicking 5-under 65 in the 2017 North & South’s first round, good for a two-shot lead over Alabama’s Jonathan Hardee. “I chipped in on 2, hit to about 4 feet on 3, hit to 3 feet on 4, had 12 feet on 5, rolled that in for birdie. Then I pulled a 5 iron on 6 and thought it would roll into the bunker, but it just stayed up about 15 feet from the flag, and then I rolled that in for birdie. Then I go to 7, hit a little 9 iron in 5 feet right of the hole and made that putt.
“I remember laughing while walking off the back of the green and couldn’t help but think that it felt like 2013. It was just unconscious golf. I was like, ‘What is going on?’”
It was Grimmer, who, famously, shot the only known 59 at Pinehurst on Course No. 1 in the 2013 North & South Junior.
But this was different. This was No. 2. And it hit him again when he lipped out for birdie on the par-3 9th.
“I thought, ‘Good Lord, I almost broke 30 on a nine on Pinehurst No. 2.’ I mean, come on, that’s crazy.”
Grimmer has had his share of history on No. 2 as well. He was the youngest player in the field for the 2014 U.S. Open and last month teamed with Clark Engle to win medalist honors at the 3rd U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship.
Now he leads after the first round of the North & South with the best recorded score by an individual on No. 2 since Martin Kaymer’s first and second round 65s during the Open.
It was a day to rekindle good memories for a number of players in the North & South field. Ben Wong, who won the Four-Ball in May with teammate Frankie Capan, returned to play No. 2 for the first time since his USGA championship. The 17-year-old fired a 1-under 69 to tie for third.
“Man, there were A LOT of memories out there today,” said Wong, who couldn’t stop smiling. “I mean, it’s Pinehurst. How can you not have fun here?”
Like Grimmer, Wong bogeyed the first hole. “It’s Pinehurst; you should never come out here expecting a ton of birdies. That first bogey kind of got me back to reality,” he said.
Wong came back with birdies on 2, 5 and 10 to get to 2 under before finishing with a bogey on 13 and five straight pars.
“It was a good round, a really solid round,” Wong said. “I hit the ball really well, but man, it helps so much to have some local knowledge here. You learn what pins you absolutely can’t hit at.”
Other players with past Pinehurst ties enjoyed similarly strong days. Defending champion Tim Conover struggled with a front-nine 39, but battled back with four birdies on the back nine to come in at 2-over 72, right in the thick of the leaderboard in a tie for 12th. North & South veteran Alex Smalley, who recently played in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills, tied Wong for third at 1 under, and Zach Bachou, who nearly won the 2013 North & South as junior golfer before falling late to Andrew Dorn in the championship match, was tied for sixth after an even-par 70.
“It feels awesome being back, and there were a lot of good memories out there for sure,” Conover said. “Really, though, you have to try to approach it as just another tournament and not think about, ‘Oh, I’ve won here before.’ And I think I kept my mind right today.”
It was a good day to make new memories as well. Neither Hardee nor U.S. Open sensation Cameron Champ had played No. 2 before this week, but both enjoyed big moments in the opening round of the North & South.
Hardee had one of the cleanest scorecards of the day with five birdies and two bogeys for his 3-under 67 to leave him alone in second behind Grimmer.
“I remember coming here to watch the 2014 Open and just being really excited about someday having a chance to play this golf course,” said Hardee, who finished among the top 20 in the NCAA Championship and is coming off a win in the 88th Southeastern Amateur. “No. 2 just looks so good to me; it just seems to fit my eye. And the greens are so good, if you miss a putt, it’s your fault. Everything’s perfect.”
Champ, like Grimmer, really had it going early, making birdies on 1, 2, 6, 7 and 10 to rocket to 5 under before a back-nine 38 dropped him to 1 under and a tie for third. With a small gallery following him most of the day – Champ was 5 under through two rounds at Erin Hills and led the Open field in driving distance at 337.30 yards – Champ bombed drives that left those watching merely shaking their heads.
And before he got loose with the driver, it was a perfect method of attack against No. 2, even at 7,215 yards.
“No. 2 is obviously a little tighter than Erin Hills, but for a while I was hitting it really well off the tee,” Champ said. “And on this course, if I can hit it well off the tee, with my distance advantage, I have a chance to really score.”
The championship will have another round of stroke play on Tuesday and the field will be cut to the top 32 for match play, which begins on Wednesday. The championship match will be played on Friday.
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutively-running amateur golf championship in the United States. Over the past century, the best amateurs in the world have vied for its coveted Putter Boy trophy. The winners now serve as legends in the game – among them Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III – and the championship continues to draw the best in amateur golf.