By Alex Podlogar
There is an old adage around Pinehurst No. 2. Given Donald Ross’s masterful turtleback greens, the perpetual saw is to aim for the middle of the green, and putt to corners.
No one told Luke Clanton.
And if they did, he likely would have just talked them out of it.
Playing aggressively from the very moment the sun began its early morning stroll amidst the North Carolina pines, Clanton fired at tucked championship pins not with reckless abandon, but with poised precision.
Back-left on 1? Go for it. Tucked right on 2? Aim right at it. Hit it to 7 feet on 4. Reach the 5th in two and mark down a conceded eagle. Eight feet on 10. Twenty feet on 11 – that was a miss. Seven feet again on 12. And again on 13. On 15.
“My caddie said, ‘Let’s go 5 feet left here,” and I said, ‘Hell, no,’” Clanton quipped.
With five birdies and an eagle, Clanton essentially went around Pinehurst No. 2 shooting a 64. And yet, he needed every monumental moment. Needed every pure ball-striking lash. Needed every walked-in putt. Because without even one of them, he would not be the champion of the 122nd North & South Amateur. That honor Sunday would have gone to his opponent, Tommy Morrison, who made one of the great charges this grand old course has ever seen, but who ultimately fell 1-down to his best friend and regular practice round partner.
“It was unbelievable,” Clanton said. “Tommy is one hell of a golfer. I’ve never played a match like that before in my life, never had to make so many birdies to tie so many holes before in my life.”
As the group reached the drivable par-4 3rd hole, the match remained tied. Were the Putter Boy statue still positioned as a sundial, the lad would’ve read 7:17 a.m. on a sweltering Carolina morning. Staring directly into the sun, Morrison launched his tee shot toward the green. Few could follow it. But it landed – and held – 30 feet below the cup. Asked by his caddie how the shot turned out, Morrison reached for his putter and walked the 309 yards with the club in his hand. “It’s on the green,” he said.
The Texas recruit and the Texas wedge were only hinting at what was to come.
The pair halved the 3rd and 4th holes with birdies. After Clanton took his 1-up lead following the conceded eagle on 5, the players traded pars on 6, 7 and 8. Clanton went hard after the left pin on the par-3 9th – it was tucked just beyond the ridge so many past, present and future 3-putts on that hole know so well – and pulled it off, leaving himself 12 feet on the shelf for birdie.
Morrison, a Pinehurst resident as a kid for a few years not long ago, knew better than to challenge that pin and had 22 feet from the middle of the green. He then poured it in, pumping his fist as his sizable and supportive gallery perked up. That tied the match again, with Clanton out in 31 and Morrison in 33.
Both players clipped trees with their drives on the par-5 10th, but both players also birdied the 10th, with Morrison rolling it in from off the green, forcing Clanton to bury his 10-footer, which he promptly walked in as it reached the cup.
The game was afoot.
North & South Amateur Champion Luke Clanton (in red) hugs his opponent Tommy Morrison after Morrison conceded on Pinehurst No. 2 on Sunday. (Photo by John Patota)
Their balls came to rest on the 11th green so close to each other that Clanton asked Morrison to move his mark so it wouldn’t be in his stance. Clanton then missed from 20 feet – he had shaken his head in disgust from the fairway moments earlier when the ball had drawn away from his initial target of the front-right hole location.
Morrison did not miss. And he had his first lead.
He did not miss on 12, either, again from 20 feet, and again from just on the fringe. But neither did Clanton, who calmly stroked his 7-footer down the hill to halve and stay 1-down.
That marked four birdies in a row for Morrison, and six for the day. Combined, he and Clanton had made 10 birdies and an eagle and were collectively 11-under-par – through 12 holes.
“It was cool. I was making quality shots, and I didn’t really make very many (putts) this morning, so I felt due,” Morrison said. “Obviously, four in a row is really just a cherry on top. The putter felt good, I was confident and gosh, they needed to go in. It was a special round.”
“I was a little scared, I won’t lie,” Clanton said.
Morrison misfired from the fairway on 13, leaving his approach in the front-right bunker. Clanton – obviously, at this point – went for the pin, somehow getting the ball to stop 9 feet below the hole.
“I’ll be honest – all week I’ve been flying at flags,” Clanton said. “My caddie never tried to make me play safe at all, and I love that. I think I was hitting it good enough this week that I could do that.”
Morrison flew his bunker shot past the hole, but – of course, at this point – buried the putt for par. And Clanton? As his ball rolled toward the cup, he again started to walk it in…and abruptly stopped mid-stride, only for the ball to curl in from the left side of the hole. Clanton squared the match.
From there, Pinehurst No. 2 seemingly reappeared from its soft summer slumber. The players made pars on 14 and 15. They made hard-fought bogeys on 16. Morrison made a deft up-and-down from the right bunker on 17. The pair reached the 18th tee exactly where they should’ve been.
And then Morrison fanned his drive right and deep into the trees. He saw a gap at the top of the pines, but his ball found a branch. His third went over the green, forcing him to the drop zone.
Clanton was in the middle of the fairway, and for the first time all day, he didn’t look at the pin.
“I said, ‘I’m going right in the middle of the green and not even taking a chance,” he said.
A classy concession by Morrison (watch it above) closed one of the most electric and hard-fought matches the North & South has witnessed in its storied history, and after the 1-up victory, Clanton is a North & South Champion. His name will be emblazoned in bronze on the Perpetual Wall in Pinehurst’s clubhouse, and he’ll have a locker in the North & South Locker Room, big enough to fit his Putter Boy trophy. He joins his cousin, 2010 Women’s North & South Amateur Champion and LPGA Tour player, Cydney Clanton as North & South winners.
“This is big. This is a big one for me,” Clanton said. “It’s special to be here. I love this place.”
“It was an honor to play in the final match,” Morrison said. “If you had told me that I was going to shoot 67 today and lose, I probably would’ve argued with you. Luke and I both played same great golf. Luke just had a couple less mistakes than I did.”
“I felt like I had a lot of the Village of Pinehurst at my back, and that is really special,” Morrison added.
122nd North & South Amateur
Pinehurst No. 2
Round of 32
June 30, 2022
- No. 1 Karl Vilips d. No. 32 Leo Oyo, 3&2
- No. 16 Luke Clanton d. No. 17 Sam Jean, 4&3
- No. 8 David Ford d. No. 25 Chad Wilfong, 2&1
- No. 9 Evan Vo d. No. 24 Luke Dossey, 6&4.
- No. 4 Maxwell Ford d. No. 29 Owen Avrit, 2&1
- No. 13 Ben Woodruff d. No. 20 Boyd Owens, 4&2
- No. 5 Jackson Koivun d. No. 28 Nick Robillard, 2&1
- No. 21 Nick Lyerly d. No. 12 Xavier Marcoux, 2&1
- No. 2 Ross Steelman d. No. 31 Joshua Bai, 2&1
- No. 15 Ben James d. No. 18 Caleb VonArragon, 1up
- No. 7 Caleb Surratt d. No. 26 Peter Fountain, 2&1
- No. 10 Thomas Morrison d. No. 23 Jayden Ford, 4&3
- No. 30 Maxwell Moldovan d. No. 3 Frankie Capan, 3&2
- No. 14 Ian Siebers d. No. 10 Jonathan Griz, 21 holes
- No. 6 Davis Bryant d. No. 27 Dongjin Park, 3&1
- No. 11 Evans Lewis d. No. 22 Jackson Van Paris, 4&3
Round of 16
July 1, 2022
- No. 16 Luke Clanton d. No. 1 Karl Vilips, 1up
- No. 8 David Ford d. No. 9 Evan Vo, 2&1
- No. 13 Ben Woodruff d. No. 4 Maxwell Ford, 4&3
- No. 21 Nick Lyerly d. No. 5 Jackson Koivun, 1up
- No. 15 Ben James d. No. 2 Ross Steelman, 20 holes
- No. 10 Thomas Morrison d. No. 7 Caleb Surratt, 3&2
- No. 30 Maxwell Moldovan d. No. 14 Ian Siebers, 1up
- No. 6 Davis Bryant d. No. 11 Evans Lewis, 1up
July 1-2, 2022
Matches resumed in place at 7 a.m. Saturday
- No. 16 Luke Clanton d No. 8 David Ford, 21 holes
- No. 21 Nick Lyerly d No. 13 Ben Woodruff, 2&1
- No. 10 Thomas Morrison d No. 15 Ben James, 2&1
- No. 30 Maxwell Moldovan d. No. 6 Davis Bryant, 23 holes
- No. 16 Luke Clanton d. No. 21 Nick Lyerly, 4&3
- No. 10 Thomas Morrison d. No. 30 Maxwell Moldovan, 1up
July 3, 2022
- No. 16 Luke Clanton d. No. 10 Thomas Morrison, 1up