By Alex Podlogar
With nine holes to play, all Jackson Koivun wanted to do was make the cut.
He made a little Pinehurst history instead.
Koivun, a 17-year-old recruit of Auburn who won’t graduate high school until next year, found himself still a couple of shots below the cut line when he completed his opening nine holes of Pinehurst No. 4 in the second round of the 122nd North & South Amateur on Wednesday. And just to get to that point, he needed a little help.
“I hit a tree behind the 9th green, and my ball bounced back onto the green, and I made a birdie,” Koivun said. “I got really lucky there.”
In the end, as for the cut line, he didn’t really need the miracle bounce. Because after finishing with an eagle on the drivable par-4 16th and then birdies on both 17 and 18 – the last from a mere 4 feet – Koivun put the finishing touches on a course-record 7-under 63 on No. 4 to vault into the top five after stroke play.
From cut line to contender.
“I had no clue what the course record was,” Koivun said. “I didn’t even think it was even in reach until after I made the putt on 18. Someone said, ‘Course record!’ and I was so confused. I thought it might’ve been lower, but, what do you know?”
Koivun’s 63 is one shot better than Matthew Sharpstene’s 64 to open the 2019 U.S. Amateur, a record that lasted just shy of three years.
Koivun doesn’t expect his to last much longer. After all, even his could’ve been even lower. Koivun hit a masterful shot in the par-5 17th, leaving himself 10 feet for another eagle.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my, back-to-back eagles could be great.’ But I hit a really bad putt, so, a tap-in birdie.”
It’ll do, and it helped him clip his playing partner and future Auburn teammate, sophomore Evan Vo, who fired a 6-under 64 to move into a share of seventh place and well into the match play field.
“We were joking in the fairway how we’re both sitting at 6 under (for the round),” Koivun said. “And I hit my wedge shot to about 4 feet and made mine, and he leaves his dead-center short to tie me.
“It’s really cool to have a course record out here, but I’m sure it’ll be broken soon. But it’s cool to have it while it lasts.”
The championship now shifts to match play, where the top 32 seeds advance, with the championship match scheduled for 2 p.m. on Saturday. And there will be a lot of familiarity in that bracket.
Karl Vilips is the medalist of the 122nd North & South Amateur. (Photo by Matt Gibson)
It starts with medalist Karl Vilips, who has been winning at Pinehurst since the tender age of 7. A star on the U.S. Kids World Golf stage, Vilips’ amateur play has been just as notable, as is his remarkable play at the Cradle of American Golf. A quarterfinalist in last year’s North & South, and before that, a quarterfinalist at the 2019 U.S. Amateur on Pinehurst No. 2, the Stanford junior backed up his blistering round on No. 2 a day ago with a steady 2-under 68 on Wednesday to finish medal play at 6 under and one shot clear of Frankie Capan, Maxwell Ford and Ross Steelman.
Still, as good as Vilips has been in total – he was the runner-up a week ago at the Northeast Amateur – it’s been a while since a win of any kind.
“It’s good to win something,” Vilips said of medalist honors. “It’s been kind of a rough couple of years, and obviously there’s a long way to go, but this feels good.”
He’ll now face the No. 32 seed, Leo Oyo, in the first round of match play on Thursday. Oyo finished at even par, tied with nine others at 140 for the two rounds.
“Six shots between the first seed and the 32nd seed isn’t much,” Vilips said. “I don’t really think seeding has too much of an advantage out here, so you can’t take anything for granted. You just have to go out and play and kind of see what your opponent is going to do.”
Frankie Capan has already won one big trophy at Pinehurst. (Photo by Zach Pessagno)
Capan is another familiar face at Pinehurst, so familiar that his photo hangs on the clubhouse wall. Five years ago, Capan and Ben Wong teamed together to win the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball on No. 2. Capan contended for medalist throughout the day before a late bogey at the par-3 17th dropped him a shot back of Vilips.
“I was kind of bummed because I bogeyed 17 today and that’s the hole we won the Four-Ball on,” Capan quipped. “I hit it left on 15, and I remember chipping in there back at the Four-Ball. And I almost chipped in again from there today.”
“There’s just so many memories of good shots, and of bad shots. You just out tune out the bad ones, and hold onto the good ones.”
Last year’s runner-up, local sensation Jackson Van Paris qualified for match play again, taking the 22nd seed after finishing at 1 under. The man Van Paris memorably beat in the semifinals, reigning U.S. Four-Ball Champion Chad Wilfong, also made it through stroke play and will be the 25th seed after finishing at even. 2020 North & South Junior Champion Jonathan Griz is the 19th seed.
Round of 32 matches begin at 7 a.m. on Thursday.
122nd North & South Amateur
Round of 32
June 30, 2022
No. 1 Karl Vilips vs. No. 32 Leo Oyo, 7 a.m.
No. 16 Luke Clanton vs. No. 17 Sam Jean, 7:08 a.m.
No. 8 David Ford vs. No. 25 Chad Wilfong, 7:16 a.m.
No. 9 Evan Vo vs. No. 24 Luke Dossey, 7:24 a.m.
No. 4 Maxwell Ford vs. No. 29 Owen Avrit 7:32 a.m.
No. 13 Ben Woodruff vs. No. 20 Boyd Owens 7:40 a.m.
No. 5 Jackson Koivun vs. No. 28 Nick Robillard 7:48 a.m.
No. 12 Xavier Marcoux vs. No. 21 Nick Lyerly 7:56 a.m.
No. 2 Ross Steelman vs. No. 31 Joshua Bai 8:04 a.m.
No. 15 Ben James vs. No. 18 Caleb VonArragon 8:12 a.m.
No. 7 Caleb Surratt vs. No. 26 Peter Fountain 8:20 a.m.
No. 10 Thomas Morrison vs. No. 23 Jayden Ford 8:28 a.m.
No. 3 Frankie Capan vs. No. 30 Maxwell Moldovan 8:36 a.m.
No. 14 Ian Siebers vs. No. 10 Jonathan Griz 8:44 a.m.
No. 6 Davis Bryant vs. No. 27 Dongjin Park 8:52 a.m.
No. 11 Evans Lewis vs. No. 22 Jackson Van Paris 9:00a.m.