BY ALEX PODLOGAR
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – It finally got a little easier for Tim Conover.
The East Carolina junior won four of the first five holes to take a commanding lead that was barely threatened to defeat Andrew Whalen 4 & 2 and capture the 116th North & South Amateur on Friday at Pinehurst No. 2.
“This means the world to me,” said Conover, who was the Carolinas Golf Association’s Junior Boys Player of the Year in 2013. “It’s really just amazing to think about. It was a week of really close calls, but somehow, I was really resilient.”
The final was a commanding performance in a week in which Conover, of nearby Holly Springs, N.C., constantly found himself of the edge of elimination. He made a testy 5-footer on 18 to close stroke play, then survived a 7-players-for-5-spots playoff to qualify for match play with the 31st seed – out of a possible 32.
It didn’t get any easier from there. Faced with perhaps the most difficult draw in the championship, Conover first knocked out second-seeded Tyler McDaniel before playing a staggering 39 total holes in Thursday’s Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches. He beat Nick Hardy, perhaps the championship’s best player, with clutch birdies on the 20th and 21st holes, then went all 18 holes before outlasting N.C. State recruit Benjamin Shipp to reach the North & South’s final day.
And what a day it was.
“I played awesome,” Conover admitted. “I was almost flawless.”
Conover won the first two holes with pars when Whalen failed to get up and down. But Conover made a brilliant birdie on the 4th after a great approach from the native area right of the fairway, then followed with another birdie on the par-5 5th. Walking to the 6th tee, Conover was already in firm control of the match.
“I didn’t play great, but Tim played so solid all day,” said Whalen, who reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur Four-Ball in Winged Foot in May. “I knew if I wasn’t making birdies then I wasn’t going to win the hole.”
Whalen got back within three holes after Conover’s only mistake of the day – a three-putt on the 7th. But Conover drained a 9-footer for par to get up and down from the left bunker on the 9th, and after Whalen 3-putted, Conover was back in front by four after the front 9.
Whalen had a couple of chances to get closer. He birdied 12 to move within three holes again, and then stuck his approach shot to 4 feet on 13 to put more pressure on his opponent. But Conover coolly made his birdie putt first, and with the pressure back on Whalen, the Northwestern senior missed.
“I didn’t expect him to make the putt, but I should’ve,” Whalen said. “That was big. I feel like if I would’ve made that putt and he missed it, I would’ve been really close.”
Whalen stayed alive with a 25-footer for birdie on 14, but Conover again came through with his putter, making an 8-footer for par on 15 to keep his 3-up lead heading to 16.
“I did that all week,” Conover said of his clutch putting. “I have a lot of confidence in my putter, and I knew I absolutely had to make those. Today, I just got really good reads, and after that, it was just about taking the right line and making a good stroke, knowing they’d go in.”
Conover finally put Whalen away with perhaps his best shot of the tournament, a dazzling approach to 6 feet on the 513-yard par-4 16th. He never had to putt it. After missing his chip left of the green, Whalen conceded the putt and the match.
It was a fitting end for Conover, who had to work so hard at every moment throughout the week.
“Now I know I can really beat anyone, and win anything,” Conover said of the win while clutching his Putter Boy trophy. “This is such a tough test, a lot of good players…and Pinehurst No. 2. I won that battle.”
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, Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.
116th North & South Amateur
Pinehurst Resort & Country Club
Pinehurst No. 2
June 27-July 1
Round of 32
No. 1 Stephen Franken, Raleigh, N.C. d. No. 32 Cameron John, Ferntree Gully, Australia, 5 & 4
No. 17 George Cunningham d. No. 16 Ryan Troyer, Dover, Ohio, 3 & 1
No. 25 Brian Ohr, Wheeling, Ill. d. No. 8 Trevor Sluman, Pittsford, N.Y. 3 & 2
No. 9 Thomas Walsh, High Point, N.C. d. No. 24 A.J. Beechler, Pinehurst, N.C., 19 holes
No. 29 Gray Townsend, Winston-Salem, N.C. d. No. 4 Andre Garcia, Mansfield, Texas, 3 & 2
No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, Philippines d. No. 13 Stoney Crouch, Mount Juliet, Tenn., 2 & 1
No. 5 Alex Smalley, Wake Forest, N.C. d. No. 28 Ryan Orr, Belleair, Fla., 1up
No. 21 Andrew Whalen, Ephrata, Wash. d. No. 12 Brandon Bauman, Las Vegas, Nev., 20 holes
No. 31 Tim Conover, Holly Springs, N.C. d. No. 2 Tyler McDaniel, Manchester, Ky., 2 & 1
No. 15 Nick Hardy, Northbrook, Ill. d. No. 18 Jonathan Brightwell, Charlotte, N.C., 4 & 3
No. 7 Benjamin Shipp, Duluth, Ga. d. No. 26 Daniel Wetterich, Cincinnati, Ohio, 6 & 5
No. 10 Zander Lozano, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas d. No. 23 Chris Korte, Littleton, Colo., 3 & 2
No. 3 Joey Savoie, Saint Leo, Canada d. No. 30 Craig Hornberger, Lancaster, Pa., 1up
No. 14 William Register, Burlington, N.C. d. No. 19 Joshua Martin, Pinehurst, N.C., 1up
No. 6 Chris Crawford, Bensalem, Pa. d. No. 27 Ryan Cornfield, Spartanburg, S.C., 1up
No. 22 David Kocher, Charlotte N.C. d. No. 11 Cole Ray, Raleigh, N.C., 8 & 6
Round of 16
No. 17 George Cunningham d. No. 1 Stephen Franken, 4 & 3
No. 9 Thomas Walsh d. No. 25 Brian Ohr, 2 & 1
No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go d. No. 29 Gray Townsend, 2 & 1
No. 21 Andrew Whalen d. No. 5 Alex Smalley, 6 & 5
No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 15 Nick Hardy, 21 holes
No. 7 Benjamin Shipp d. No. 10 Zander Lozano, 1up
No. 14 William Register d. No. 3 Joey Savoie, 3 & 2
No. 6 Chris Crawford d. No. 22 David Kocher, 2 & 1
No. 19 George Cunningham d. No. 9 Thomas Walsh, 2 & 1
No. 21 Andrew Whalen d. No. 20 Lloyd Jefferson Go, 3 & 2
No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 7 Benjamin Shipp, 2up
No. 14 William Register d. No. 6 Chris Crawford, 3 & 2
No. 21 Andrew Whalen d. No. 19 George Cunningham 1 up
No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 14 William Register 4 & 2
No. 31 Tim Conover d. No. 21 Andrew Whalen, 4 & 2