Nothing comes easily for East Carolina’s Conover, who’s still standing at 116th North & South Amateur

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East Carolina’s Tim Conover had an exhausting day at the 116th North & South Amateur, but a triumphant one as well, advancing to the championship’s semifinals. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

After 39 holes of golf, Conover joins Cunningham, Whalen and Register in North & South semifinals

MATCH PLAY BRACKET

BY ALEX PODLOGAR

VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – Tim Conover stood on the 18th green 1-up in his Round of 16 match. In front of him, Nick Hardy lined up a birdie putt that was eerily similar to the line Payne Stewart had to win the 1999 U.S. Open.

Hardy, who made the cut in the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay and qualified for the Open two weeks ago at Oakmont, came into the 116th North & South Amateur with one of the better pedigrees in the field.

Of course he made the putt.

That extended the match to extra holes, and made one thing abundantly clear – nothing was going to be easy for Conover.

“It was a loooooonnng day,” drawled the exhausted East Carolina junior, who outlasted Hardy with a birdie on the 21st hole before playing all 18 and holding off Drexel’s Chris Crawford to advance in the North & South on Thursday on Pinehurst No. 2. “I mean, really long.”

Conover, who needed to survive a 7-players-for-5-spots playoff just to get into the match play portion of the event, will carry the highest seed remaining – No. 31 out of a possible 32 – into Friday’s semifinals where he’ll face North Carolina’s William Register.

The semifinals will begin at 7 a.m. on Friday. The championship match will begin at noon. Spectators are encouraged to attend and follow the matches. There is no charge for admission.

“It means a whole lot,” Conover said of making it to the championship’s final day. “There are a lot of big names up there, going way back to Francis Ouimet and Jack Nicklaus. It’s a lot of history, but I can’t really think about that. I have to try to beat the course, beat whoever I’m playing.

“But it’d definitely be the biggest tournament I’ve ever won. I’ve never won something like this.”

The semifinals will begin at 7 a.m. on Friday. The championship match will begin at noon. Spectators are encouraged to attend and follow the matches. There is no charge for admission.

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It’s doubtful anything can rattle Conover at this point. After missing a 3-footer for par that would’ve beaten Hardy on the first extra hole, Conover made a 22-footer for birdie on the second and 20th hole of the match. But Hardy made his own 20-footer right on top of that, extending the match again.

The short par-4 3rd played as a drivable par-4, and Hardy went for hit, hitting a strong drive into the right greenside bunker. Conover put his iron back into his bag on the tee before pulling it out again and playing safely to the fairway. While Hardy’s bunker shot came up 15 feet short, Hardy buried a slick 8-footer down the hill to win the match, letting loose a triumphant fist pump to match the audible “YES!” that came as the ball dropped into the cup.

“I knew if I could beat Nick, I can beat anyone,” Conover said of the match.

Conover, who beat N.C. State recruit Benjamin Shipp 2-up in the quarterfinals, has been a giant killer in match play. In the Round of 32 on Wednesday, he stunned second-seeded Tyler McDaniel. Should he advance to the championship, Conover could face 2015 North & South runner-up George Cunningham.

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2015 North & South Amateur runner-up George Cunningham returns to the championship’s final day. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Cunningham, who fought a balky driver during stroke play, has seen his game round into form during match play. After a comfortable victory on Wednesday, Cunningham was nearly perfect in his match against medalist and top seed Stephen Franken. Until Thursday, no one had played better during the championship than N.C. State’s Franken, who at one point played 50 straight holes in 5 under. But Cunningham was relentless and cruised 4 & 3 in the Round of 16 match.

“I played flawlessly,” Cunningham said of the match. “I hit two bad drives and one bad iron shot, but I didn’t miss a putt I needed to make. I literally didn’t make a mistake.”

Cunningham, who missed much of his sophomore season at Arizona battling injuries, is seeing his game come together at Pinehurst. He played a spirited match with Virginia’s Thomas Walsh in the afternoon, prevailing 2 & 1 after a brilliant birdie on the 513-yard par-4 16th to return to the championship’s final day.

“It helps under pressure to know I can hit these shots, that I have hit these shots,” Cunningham said. “It’s such a great event, and coming so close last year, it would really feel good to win.”

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Northwestern’s Andrew Whalen was perhaps the day’s best player on Thursday in advancing to the North & South semifinals. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Cunningham would have to first get through Northwestern’s Andrew Whalen, who was perhaps the day’s best player on Thursday. Whalen dismantled Duke sophomore Alex Smalley 6 & 5 in the Round of 16, then built an early lead with three straight birdies and kept the pressure on to beat Big East Player of the Year Lloyd Jefferson Go of Seton Hall 3 & 2.

“I’ve always wanted to play in the North & South, and I finally got the chance,” said Whalen, who’s playing in his first championship at Pinehurst. “And now, here I am.”

Register will try to become one of a long history of Tar Heels golfers to hoist the Putter Boy trophy. Register, who beat the No. 3 seed Joey Savoie in the morning, enjoyed two rather comfortable victories, beating both Savoie and Crawford 3 & 2.

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North Carolina’s William Register is trying to join a distinguished line of Tar Heels champions in North & South history. (Photo by Thomas Toohey Brown)

Register is hoping to join the likes of fellow North Carolina North & South champions such as Harvie Ward, Davis Love III and Jack Nicklaus II.

“It’s awesome here,” said Register, who’s playing his second North & South. “So many great people have won, it’s amazing. It’d be awesome to have my name right there.”

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

June 29

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

June 30

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

Quarterfinals

June 30

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

Semifinals

July 1

No. 19 George Cunningham vs. No. 21 Andrew Whalen, 7 a.m.

No. 14 William Register vs. No. 31 Tim Conover, 7:10 a.m.

Championship

July 1

TBD, Noon

COURSE STATS

DAY 3 RECAP

ROUND 2 RECAP

ROUND 1 RECAP

 

 

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