By Alex Podlogar
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, N.C. – You won’t find Easton Paxton near the top of any junior golf rankings. After all, for 6 months out of the year, he doesn’t touch a golf club.
Part of that has to do with his hometown being in Riverton, Wyoming. But, put more simply, Paxton would rather play basketball in the winter anyway.
It sure isn’t hurting his golf game.
Paxton shot a 6-under-par 208 over three rounds at Pinehurst Resort and Country Club, including a solid 2-over 72 in the final round on famed Pinehurst No. 2, to win the 37th Junior Boys’ North & South Amateur Championship on Wednesday.
“It’s really special,” said Paxton. “I’ve come close in some big events like this a lot, but I’ve never been able to get it done all the way.
“I played solid all week, but I really started to feel it at the end. I didn’t finish as strong as I’d like to, but I learned a lot about myself. I’m just very blessed to be here.”
Paxton’s ranking has less to do with his golf game and more with the few events he’s played thus far this season. The 16-year-old has turned heads before, though, including former PGA Tour veteran David Ogrin, whom Paxton beat by five shots after a 66 in a U.S. Open local qualifier in 2014.
“I don’t know if I saw the next Tiger Woods,” Ogrin told Golf Digest’s Ron Sirak last summer, “but I think I saw the next Jordan Spieth.”
Paxton was brilliant for much of the North & South, opening the tournament with a pair of 4-under 68s on Pinehurst No. 8 and Pinehurst No. 5, respectively, to build a four-shot lead entering the final round.
For a while, Paxton continued that eye-opening play on Donald Ross’s crown jewel, playing the front 9 of the course that hosted the 2014 U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open in 2 under.
But Paxton – admittedly, he would add – began to get tight near the end of the round. Bogeys on 15 and 17 sandwiched a double bogey, and he needed a clean 18th hole to hold onto the championship.
“I wasn’t nervous on 18; by then I decided to just trust my swing and myself,” Paxton said. “But before that? Yes, I was nervous.”
Paxton won by two shots over Atkinson, North Carolina’s Blake Taylor (70-69-71-210) and by three over Daniel Wetterich (69-70-72-211), of Cincinnati.
Georgetown-bound Christina Parsells won the 37th Junior Girls’ North & South Amateur, but not before it seemed like she had given it away.
Parsells, who led by a single stroke entering the final round on Pinehurst No. 5, made a double bogey on the par-5 17th just moments after Dominique Galloway made her fifth birdie of the day on the same hole.
But while Parsells managed to make a clean par on the 18th hole, Galloway made her own double bogey, and the two-shot swing enabled Parsells to hold the coveted Putter Boy trophy.
“This is pretty special,” Parsells said of the victory. “It’s amazing to think about all the great names who have won here.”
Parsells, of Bernardsville, New Jersey, finished at 3-over 219 with her best playing coming on the front 9 of Pinehurst No. 2 in the opening round on Monday. Parsells had five birdies between 3 and 9 and made the turn in 3 under. An even par back 9 gave her a 3-under 69 on the famed course.
Galloway, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, started the day five strokes back in a tie for fifth. Her 3-under 69 fell one shot short on Pinehurst No. 5.
Both Paxton and Parsells will be honored at Pinehurst by having their names emblazoned in bronze on the Perpetual Wall in the Resort Clubhouse.