Fearless Clanton will try to spoil another title run for a player, Morrison, with Pinehurst ties
By Alex Podlogar
As the ball hit its ascent, it looked like trouble.
The 203-yard, par-3 6th hole of Pinehurst No. 2 is enveloped by trouble. And with the pin on the front-right edge of the green, anything drifting to the right from the start…well, that’s a shot with no chance.
No chance at birdie, for sure. No chance at par, probably. Little chance of winning the hole in match play, especially.
But Luke Clanton kept eying it. And as it descended, while trouble still loomed, there was something different about this approach.
It landed softly on the green…and stayed there, somehow, to the right of that flag and just a few feet away. It was as good of a tee shot into 6 on No. 2 that anyone will ever see, U.S. Open or otherwise.
One spectator clapped. One. And even he only clapped one time. (Who claps just one time?)
And this was a sizable gallery. Perhaps the rest were dumbfounded. Perhaps they were astonished. Maybe they missed it.
Luke Clanton didn’t.
Before he picked up his tee, Clanton turned toward the spectator, smiled widely, extended his right arm and pointed. “Thanks, buddy.”
Those are a lot of words to say – 192 of them, to be precise – that if there’s anyone who is not going to be intimidated by the crowd that is surely going to be fully supporting former Pinehurst resident Tommy Morrison in the championship match of the 122nd North & South Amateur early Sunday morning, it is one Luke Clanton.
“I love it,” Clanton said following his comfortable 4&3 semifinal victory over Nick Lyerly on Saturday afternoon. “I love when people are around watching. It’s awesome to see the support being out here. But that’s Pinehurst. This is one of my favorite places.
“And having a little clap? I’m definitely going to look back and acknowledge it, for sure.”
Clanton may not hear much more than that on Sunday. Morrison, the 6-foot-10 Texas recruit who won a high school state golf championship for the nearby O’Neal School in Pinehurst back when he was a mere 7th-grader in 2018, will be the crowd favorite after he finally held off a game Maxwell Moldovan 1-up in the other semifinal on Saturday.
Morrison, who saw his early 3-up lead disappear slowly and methodically over the back nine, found himself 141 yards from the pin and just in the native area left of the fairway on 18. He was tied with Moldovan, who found the middle of the green, setting up a good look at birdie for a chance to steal the match.
With a tight lie in the sand, Morrison clipped a pitching wedge. In the air, he knew it had a chance.
“Be good,” he said.
The ball landed 6 feet past the pin, but on a backstop. With a little spin, the ball drifted back toward the cup, finally coming to a rest just 18 inches away. With a gallery beside and behind him and a veranda stocked of people in front, the appreciation and greeting were easily heard and felt.
“That one’s up there,” Morrison said when asked to rank the shot in his history. “It probably feels like the best one ever. That was a cool experience.”
Moldovan’s attempt slipped by, and before Morrison had even placed his ball back onto its mark, Moldovan had his cap in his hand. The cheer lingered after Morrison’s tap-in fell.
“I feel like I have Pinehurst supporting me, and that match was special,” Morrison said. “I definitely felt that.”
Now he’ll face his good friend Clanton, the fourth-ranked junior golfer in the country and a Florida State recruit. And while Morrison is looking forward to what he’s sure will be a competitive match, he also has to know that the ever-loquacious Clanton is not one to shy away – and certainly not from a pro-Pinehurst crowd. It was only 11 months ago that Clanton knocked off Pinehurst favorite Jackson Van Paris in the Round of 16 at the U.S. Junior Amateur at the Country Club of North Carolina – Van Paris’ home course, of all places.
But Morrison isn’t one to back down, either, friendship or not.
“Luke and I are really good friends,” Morrison said. “We’re very close, and we’re great friends off the golf course. On the golf course? We probably want to beat each other more than anyone else.
“I don’t really want to lose to a close friend. Luke and I said, when we saw the bracket, that there was a chance we play each in the final. And here it is.”
Here it is, indeed.
The championship match will begin at 6:50 a.m. on Pinehurst No. 2. Spectators are welcome – and expected.
Luke Clanton and Tommy Morrison wouldn’t want it any other way.
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 vs. No. 10 Thomas Morrison, 6:50 a.m.
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