Walter Hagen. Sam Snead. Ben Hogan.
Each won three championships at Pinehurst.
So, too, after a birdie in the dark, has Josh Martin.
One of the top junior golfers in the nation, the Pinehurst native won the Donald Ross Junior Championship for the third time in four years Monday, becoming the first player in the 67-year history of the event to do so. Martin also won the tournament in 2011 and 2012, and nearly captured a third title in 2013, but lost a playoff after the tournament was shortened due to rain.
Martin prevailed this time in the playoff, which lasted just one hole – the 1st on Pinehurst No. 4 – as darkness fell. Play was delayed by an hour to start the day after morning rain, but Martin snuck in his birdie to clip Stephen Cerbara, of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, and Alex Smalley, of Wake Forest, North Carolina.
“I don’t get to play in the dark very often,” said a smiling Martin, clutching his third Putter Boy trophy.
But he does win often. Martin because the youngest North Carolina Amateur champion in June, and then fired rounds of 69 and 68 on courses No. 5 and No. 4 to prevail at Pinehurst again, putting himself into elite company. Hagen, Snead and Hogan won the North & South Open on Pinehurst No. 2 three times each.
“It’s hard to really think about being mentioned in the same breath as those guys,” Martin said. “That’s pretty awesome.”
A.J. Beechler, also of Pinehurst, perhaps stole the show on Monday, though. A U.S. Kids world champion by age 11 a few years ago, Beechler added to his growing junior resume with a brilliant performance in winning the 12-to-14-year-old division of the Donald Ross Junior. Beechler shot 69 in the first round on Sunday and then came back with scintillating 7-under 63 on Pinehurst No. 1 on Monday to win by four shots over Joseph Pagdin, of Orlando, Florida.
“I actually thought it was a three-day tournament, so I guess that’s why I was pretty calm,” said Beechler, who had six birdies, an eagle and a bogey. “I knew the greens were going to be soft with all the rain, so I was just throwing them up a couple of feet short of the pins.”
Jackson Van Paris, of Lake Forest, Illinois, shot rounds of 71-74 for a total of 145 to win the 11-and-under division by one shot over Darren Choi, of Toronto.
In Sunday’s first round, Brandon Whitley, of Huntersville, North Carolina, made a hole-in-one on the 9th hole of No. 1, using an 8 iron from 130 yards in the 12-to-14 division.
Here are a few photos from the final round of play Monday.