CANADIAN CONNERS PEEKS AT NO. 2, SHARES NORTH & SOUTH LEAD WITH PURDUE’S SCHENK
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – The game was still intact, even if Corey Conners wasn’t going low again on Wednesday.
Cruising along, mixing a handful of bogeys with an equal amount of birdies, Conners could allow himself to take a glimpse at what the future may have in store for him.
And so he peered beyond the lush green fairways and thick rough of Pinehurst No. 4 – host of stroke play for the 113th North and South Amateur at Pinehurst Resort – and let his eyes and mind wander.
There, lining some of those fairways, was the goal for the No. 2-ranked Canadian amateur and Kent State star.
“I’ve kind of been looking through the trees at (Pinehurst) No. 2 from No. 4, taking a peek at some of the holes, and it just looks awesome,” Conners said following his even par 71 on Wednesday to stay at 6 under. “I’m really excited about the opportunity to play No. 2.”
Tied atop the leaderboard as play was completed late into the evening, Conners will likely get that chance as one of the top 16 seeds to emerge from the final round of stroke play Thursday and qualify for the tournament’s decisive match play – to be played on the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open host course, Donald Ross’ famed Pinehurst No. 2.
It’s something Conners, who made Kent State history when he finished fourth in the 2012 NCAA Championship, would certainly like to add to his already sturdy amateur resume.
“All the history, the major championships they’ve had there on No. 2,” Conners said, his voice trailing off. “It would be a career highlight for me. I can’t really put it into words.”
He still has some work to do – and he’s far from assured even earning the top seed.
That’s because Purdue’s Adam Schenk may be playing the best golf of his life.
Few amateurs have been hotter recently than Schenk, who enters the North and South off a wire-to-wire win at the Indiana Amateur in late June. Schenk, who had a 69 on Tuesday and has finished in the top 8 of his last five tournament appearances, came back following a 2 ½-hour rain delay to birdie two of his last three holes to tie Conners at 6-under 136.
“The break was probably a good thing for me,” Schenk said. “It settled me down a little bit.”
Schenk had a lot to be amped up about. He birdied four of his first eight holes to take sole possession of the lead before a bogey at the 456-yard, par-4 18th dropped him back to 5 under. Schenk rebounded with a quick birdie at the first, but dumped his tee shot into the water on the par-3 4th before another bogey on the par-3 6th dropped him to -4.
But his finish mirrored his start, putting Schenk in prime possession to nab the top seed and medalist honors following Thursday’s round.
Not that Schenk is focused on that.
“It doesn’t really matter,” said the first-time North and South contestant. “As long as I’m in the Top 16, that’s the goal.”
Conners and Schenk led four players at 5-under 137. Cleveland State’s Andrew Bailey, who fired a 5-under 66 on Tuesday, came back with a second-round 71 while former Maryland golfer Joey Rice backed up his first-day 69 with a 68 Wednesday to also move to 5 under.
“I’m putting!” quipped an incredulous Rice, who graduated from Maryland last year and is working full time – and golfing part time. “It’s like the first time ever.”
Davidson’s Richard Fountain and Virginia Tech’s Mikey Moyers – playing in the same group – were also each at 5 under.
At 4 under was 17-year-old Adam Wood – a U.S. Kids Pinehurst veteran who will play at nearby Duke next year.
“This brings back a lot of memories with my dad on the bag this week,” Wood said. “He was my caddie during U.S. Kids, too.”
Among other notables, Southern Pines’ Michael McGowan, son of former PGA Tour player Pat McGowan and grandson of golf legend Peggy Kirk Bell, added a second straight 1-under 70 to move to 2 under for the championship, good enough for a tie for 12th at the end of play Wednesday. Also at 2 under was 17-year-old Ben Griffin, the two-time North Carolina 4-A prep champion who has already committed to play for North Carolina in 2014.
The stage is set for a potentially wild third and final round of stroke play. Twenty-two players are within two shots of the top 16. The projected cut – top 60 and ties – at the end of play hovered around 2-over 144 – a mere eight shots from the top of the leaderboard.
The North and South is the longest consecutive-running amateur golf championship in the United States, now in its 113th year.
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, Corey Pavin, Davis Love II, among others. It continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.
“Pinehurst has been a bastion of amateur golf for over a century,” said Pinehurst President Don Padgett. “It is amateur golf at its best.”