Arizona’s George Cunningham leads by four, is lone player under par
By Alex Podlogar
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Clark Engle’s day did not start well.
He came into Tuesday’s second round of the 115th North & South Amateur tied for 53rd after struggling to an 8-over 78 on a difficult Pinehurst No. 2 on Monday. With the field of 96 players teeing off on both the first and 10th tees, Engle was regulated as one of the also-ran’s on the 10th tee.
Then his round started, and…
It got much worse.
Engle bogeyed the par-5 10th hole – the 10th was the only hole on Monday that averaged a score under par – and then followed that with a bogey on 11. Already at 10 over through just 20 holes, Engle tumbled to near the bottom of the field. Guaranteed a third round of stroke play on No. 2 before having the field cut to the top 16 players, the Ohio State junior began to wonder what exactly he was playing for.
In 16 holes, he had his answer.
Clark Engle, it turns out, is playing to win.
On a day when No. 2 again lived up to its U.S. Open reputation – 22 players shot 80 or higher – Engle shook off those two early bogeys to finish with five birdies and an eagle to fire a 5-under 65 to move into sole possession of second place at 3 over. He stands four shots behind leader George Cunningham, the only player to finish two rounds on No. 2 under par.
“I thought (the course) was playing the same today as (Monday),” Engle said. “I teed off at the exact same time on the same hole, the same course conditions. I thought it played pretty similar. I just played 13 shots better, I guess.”
He birdied 12 and 13 and then followed with another birdie in 15 before finishing his front 9 with three straight pars. Engle knew then he was in a groove.
“The putt on 15 was when I felt like it was turning,” he said. “After that birdie, I parred in on the back, which was huge, I thought, because those are some of the toughest holes.”
“I thought (the course) was playing the same today as (Monday). I teed off at the exact same time on the same hole, the same course conditions. I thought it played pretty similar. I just played 13 shots better, I guess.” -Clark Engle
He was only getting started.
After a nice drive on the first hole left him with just 139 yards to the pin, Engle used a gap wedge. At first, he thought his shot bounded over the green. Instead, it had landed in the cup after one large bounce.
“I landed it right where I wanted to,” Engle said. “It was on the stick the whole way. We thought it went over the green from the fairway, but people were yelling up there, so we knew it went in.”
Engle stayed hot the rest of the day, making birdies on 5 and 8 for what is easily the best round of the tournament.
“I didn’t see that out there,” said an impressed Cunningham, whose 69 on Tuesday was one of just three rounds under par. “I got it to 4 under at one point, and I felt like that was amazing. And then to come in and see a 65, I mean, I didn’t see that anywhere out there, not with the wind.”
But Cunningham, a rising sophomore at Arizona, was nearly as impressive. Playing much of his round as the afternoon breeze picked up more and more, Cunningham birdied three of the first six holes before a birdie on 10 had him to 4 under for the championship.
A string of three straight bogeys halted that run, but with five pars to close out the round – including a delicate up-and-down on 18 to finish – Cunningham remained as the sole player under par after two rounds and well clear of Engle and the rest of the field.
“Starting out I’m really confident,” Cunningham said. “In the morning, the wind is down, and my hitting and putting has been really solid. But it gets hard to focus out there. It takes a lot of mental energy to play a full 18 on this course.”
Wofford’s Andrew Novak shook off a queasy stomach to start Tuesday’s round – “I felt like I was going to puke over every shot on the first seven holes,” he said – to add a 73 to stand third at 4-over 144. South Carolina’s Keenan Huskey, who began the day tied for 42nd, used a solid morning round of 68 to move into a tie for fourth with North Carolina’s Henry Do, who had a 74 on Tuesday.
Ben Griffin, who for several years has been competing at Pinehurst as one of the game’s elite junior players before a standout season at North Carolina, carded an even-par 70 to move into a tie for sixth with four others, including Davis Love III’s son, Dru, at 6-over 146.
“It’s a grind out there. You tee off 1, it’s a grind immediately. There’s not a birdie hole out there, and you can make a bogey on any hole.” -Andrew Novak
The field will be cut to the top 16 players after Wednesday’s round and the tournament will shift to match play. The championship will be decided with semifinal and final matches on Friday on No. 2.
Several notable players find themselves hovering around that cut line. Will Grimmer, who famously shot 59 in the 2013 North at South Junior on Pinehurst No. 1 before returning to Pinehurst to play in the 2014 U.S. Open, struggled to a 76 on Tuesday, but remains in a tie for 15th. Reigning North Carolina Amateur champion Carter Jenkins is also tied for 15th while Pinehurst native Josh Martin is two shots back in a tie for 29th.
“It’s a grind out there,” said Novak, who last week won the South Carolina Amateur Match Play. “You tee off 1, it’s a grind immediately. There’s not a birdie hole out there, and you can make a bogey on any hole.”
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutive-running amateur golf championship in the United States. 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 – Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.