Karl Vilips, Jackson Van Paris among the contenders after the first round

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By Alex Podlogar

Those (rare?) times you are playing well, how do you handle them?

The shots are flush. They’re going in the right direction. Putting seems easy. You’re stringing together good numbers.

Do you hang on? Do you think about it? Does doubt or dread creep in, or do you go for it, swing a little harder and keep playing aggressively?

Notre Dame golfer Andrew O’Leary had made three straight birdies on Pinehurst No. 4 in the first round of the 122nd North & South Amateur on Tuesday, and four in his last five holes. He had bogeyed the first to start, but now was 3 under through eight holes. The 9th is a par-5. And it was playing as the easiest hole of the day.

“I was feeling pretty good,” O’Leary said. “I tried to rip one down 9 and knew if I made a birdie there I’d be making the turn at 4 under.”

Five shots later, O’Leary was 220 yards away from the hole.

“I ended up pulling it left, next to a tree and a bushy area,” he said. “I felt like I could at least get the club on it and kind of went in there and took a few hacks at it. It never moved, really.

“I got it out eventually.”

Lying 6.

“I ended up making a 9. Just had to try to regroup as best as I could because I had gotten off to a decent start so I was still in it. So, I thought, let’s try to make some birdies on this back nine. Came out, birdied 10, and was like, all right, we’re getting back into it.”

He aced the 11th.

“It was 171 yards, and I hit a little chippy 8 iron, and it just landed, one bounce and just disappeared. At that point, I was like, this is just going to be the most absurd day of golf in my life, and just embraced that and tried to have as much fun with it as I could.”

The wild stretch is bizarre to see on the scorecard. When it was read aloud at the scorer’s table by tournament officials, O’Leary and his playing partners started laughing, halting the proceeding. From the 6th hole to the 11th, it read: 2-3-3-9-3-1. Six holes in 2 under. He finished his round at 2-under 68 and in a tie for 13th.

“This takes the cake for the craziest round of my life, for sure,” said O’Leary. “Just an absurd day all around.”

On two courses softened by rain the day before, there were plenty of good stretches – most of them without quads – throughout the field. One even included two eagles – and the lead.

Joshua Bai, a 16-year-old from New Zealand, shares the North & South Amateur lead. (Photo by Matt Gibson)
Joshua Bai, a 16-year-old from New Zealand, shares the North & South Amateur lead. (Photo by Matt Gibson)

Those came courtesy of 16-year-old New Zealander Joshua Bai – Kiwis tend to play well in Pinehurst; just ask Michael Campbell and Danny Lee – who was six shots better than O’Leary on the 9th with an eagle 3. He followed that in very un-O’Leary-like fashion with bogeys at 10 and 11, but then made three straight birdies before holing out from the fairway on the par-4 15th for his second eagle. A birdie to close the round on No. 4 left Bai in a share of the lead with Duke’s Ian Siebers after a wild 5-under 65.

“I thought things were going real good, and then I went bogey-bogey to fall to 1 over again,” Bai said. “I knew I had to finish well.

“And then I went birdie-birdie-birdie, hole-out eagle,” he added, with a modest chuckle. “(On 15) I had 86 meters left, and it just slam-dunked straight in the hole, no pitch mark, nothing, just straight in the hole.”

Siebers led the field early in the day with a blistering 5-under 65 on No. 4, making a birdie at the second before back-to-back birdies at 5 and 6 got him to 3 under. Siebers, who set a Duke record for lowest scoring average by a freshman this season, got it to 5 under through 12 before bogeys at 13 and 14 stunted the momentum.

No matter, Siebers got hot again to close his round, reaching the fringe of the green on the downwind par-5 17th from 285 yards for his seventh birdie of the day.

“I got a few early birdies that got me the momentum going throughout the day,” Siebers said. “I had a couple of bogeys on the tough holes on the back, but I was able to bounce right back.”

Stanford’s Karl Vilips tees off during the first round of the 122nd North & South Amateur in Pinehurst. (Photo by Matt Gibson)
Stanford’s Karl Vilips tees off during the first round of the 122nd North & South Amateur in Pinehurst. (Photo by Matt Gibson)

Stanford’s Karl Vilips, often a contender when he’s in Pinehurst, had his hot stretch in the early going, but his came on Pinehurst No. 2. After parring the 1st, Vilips, a quarterfinalist in the North & South a year ago and in the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst in 2019, made birdies at the 2nd and 3rd before draining a long putt for eagle from off the fringe right of the par-5 5th hole to get to 4 under through five.

“A little bit of a bonus there to ease the stress,” Vilips said.

He finished with a 66 to share third at 4 under with Leo Oyo and Maxwell Ford.

Seven more players were another shot back at 3 under, including Frankie Capan, who teamed with Ben Wong in 2017 to win the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship on Pinehurst No. 2, and local favorite Jackson Van Paris, whose spirited run to the North & South finals a year ago is the stuff of burgeoning legend.

Van Paris, too, found himself waiting on a hot streak after sitting at 1 over through 6 after narrowly missing on chipping in. (Imagine that.)

“I hit great chip there, and that got me feeling a little better,” Van Paris said. “I hadn’t had anything really good happen up to that point.

“You’re kind hanging around, waiting on your hot streak, and it hit in a hurry on 9. Birdied 9, played 10 really well, birdied 10, then hit it about 25 feet on 11, and rolled that one in. I was like, ‘Oh, wow, OK.’ It happened really quick.”

The second round of stroke play will be played on Wednesday, and then the field will be cut to the top 32 players to be seeded into match play. The championship match will be at 12:45 p.m. on Saturday on No. 2.