By Alex Podlogar

Anyone can win this week.

Anyone in the field of the 123rd North & South Amateur could complete the week clutching the coveted Putter Boy trophy behind the 18th green of famed Pinehurst No. 2 having vanquished a field that is among the toughest in all of amateur golf. There is a reason the North & South is the longest consecutively running national amateur championship and a founding member of the Elite Amateur Golf Series.

So, with that obvious but accurate disclaimer out of the way, here is a look at a few (OK, a lot) of the notables and potential contenders for the 2023 North & South Amateur. This week is always a wide ride, and with No. 2 now on the clock for the 2024 U.S. Open, there are sure to be fireworks again. We’ll be here to cover it all in depth – in words (so, so many words…), pictures and video – on and on Instagram @pinehurstresort and @northandsouth_amateur.

Play is set to begin with two rounds of stroke play on Pinehurst Nos. 2 and 4 on Tuesday and Wednesday. Match play begins on Thursday with the Round of 32. The championship match is scheduled for Saturday afternoon, and spectators are welcome each day.

The Defending Champion

LUKE CLANTON – The Champion of the 122nd North & South Amateur, Luke Clanton was the epitome of walking the walk and talking the talk in a furious blitz over No. 2 and through heavyweights at every turn. He was rarely the crowd favorite at the beginning of any particular match, but he never broke his stride – or his patter – in eventually winning everyone over. Playing aggressively from start to finish, Clanton beat medalist Karl Vilips in the Round of 16, took down North Carolina star David Ford in 21 holes in the quarterfinals, then vanquished North & South stalwart Nick Lyerly in the semifinals. Finally, on a brilliant day of golf that featured a total of 10 birdies and one eagle between them in the first 12 holes, Clanton outlasted former Pinehurst resident and good friend Tommy Morrison 1-up on the final hole.

Since then, all Clanton has done is finish in the top 10 in four of his last six appearances as a freshman at Florida State, including becoming the first frosh at FSU to win an NCAA Regional. He added a second, third and ninth-place finish as well and was third in the second Elite Amateur Series championship last week, the Northeast Amateur. Clanton is looking to be the first back-to-back winner of the North & South since Paul Simson, one of the most decorated amateurs in Carolinas golf history, won in 1995-96.

They've Been Close, Oh So Close

Tommy  Morrison was brilliant in golf - and in sportsmanship as the runner-up last year.
Tommy Morrison was brilliant in golf - and in sportsmanship as the runner-up last year.

JACKSON VAN PARIS – One hundred and eleven feet. That’s what it was. For those who were there and can tell the story, no doubt the length of Jackson Van Paris’ improbable chip-in to beat Chad Wilfong in the 2021 North & South semifinals has increased in legend and style, if that is even possible. Van Paris rode a wave of local support on that magical run to the championship match and finishing as the runner-up, and after two seasons at powerhouse Vanderbilt, is seeing his game round into premier summer shape as he returns home. Van Paris shot a second-round 61 on his way to winning the Sunnehanna two weeks ago, then followed that with a seventh-place finish at last week’s Northeast Amateur. Van Paris is seeking to become the first local to win the North & South since Jack Fields in 2011.

TOMMY MORRISON – As masterful as Clanton was in the championship final a year ago, so too was Morrison. A break here and there and he might’ve been hoisting the larger of the Putter Boy trophies. Morrison knows the area well, having played high school golf at the nearby O’Neal School. Morrison recently played in the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, and you couldn’t miss him. No, we’re not making a lame reference to Morrison’s 6-foot-10 stature. But you may have heard of his playing partner – Tony Romo.


Pinehurst Poise

UNC's David Ford is the ACC Player of the Year.
UNC's David Ford is the ACC Player of the Year.

NICK DUNLAP – No stranger to Pinehurst, and no stranger to winning, either. And no stranger to winning in Pinehurst. Many will remember Dunlap for his triumph at the 2021 U.S. Boys Junior Championship at CCNC. Currently a freshman at Alabama, Dunlap won again just last week at the Northeast Amateur, shooting rounds of 68-67-63-66 to win by two shots. Dunlap has played in the last two U.S. Opens.

MAXWELL MOLDOVAN – Moldovan is the highest-ranked amateur in the field, standing fourth on Golfweek’s Top 100 Men’s Rankings. The Ohio State rising senior has won four times, was a semifinalist at the North & South a year ago, and is a two-time All-American who set the single-season scoring record at Ohio State for the third consecutive season. Moldovan has also played the last two U.S. Opens, making the cut earlier this month at Los Angeles Country Club.

DAVID FORD – A quarterfinalist at the North & South a year ago (that Clanton guy again), Ford had a spectacular year at North Carolina, winning the ACC Championship and being named as the ACC Player of the Year. In 12 events he recorded a win, three seconds, five top 5s and eight top 10s. Ford is the first player to win ACC Freshman of the Year and ACC Player of the Year in consecutive seasons since Florida State’s Brooks Koepka in 2010-11. Ford is 3-0 career in match play at the NCAA Championship.

KARL VILIPS – Vilips has played well for so long that even as just a rising senior in college he can be considered a vet. Few players not from Pinehurst have a more intimate knowledge of The Cradle of American Golf than Stanford’s Vilips. As a youth, “Koala Karl” won multiple U.S. Kids World Championships at Pinehurst, has fared well in the North & South in years past, and was a quarterfinalist at the 2019 U.S. Amateur on Pinehurst No. 2. Vilips was the medalist following stroke play a year ago before falling to Clanton in the Round of 16.

This Field is Deeeeeep...

We could go on a while (like we haven’t already, huh?), because it really is that kind of field. A few more notable mentions include 2022 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Champions and North & South veterans Chad Wilfong and Davis WombleDavis Bryant has won the last two Southwestern Amateurs and was fourth last week at the Northeast and was a quarterfinalist at the North & South a year ago…Jonathan Griz won the North & South Junior two years ago, reached match play at the North & South last year and was a quarterfinalist at the U.S. Junior at CCNC…North Carolina’s Peter Fountain is fourth all-time in stroke average at UNC.