By Alex Podlogar
Jackson Van Paris, still a couple of months away from attending college, has already accomplished a lot in golf.
But his legend may have begun today.
With a gallery into the hundreds enveloping him and the second green of Pinehurst No. 2, the Pinehurst star stood facing just the latest daunting challenge in a semifinal match full of them over the course of 20 holes. Between him and the cup laid 111 feet of Donald Ross’s traditional treachery. To his left, his formidable veteran opponent, the Carolinas Mid-Amateur Champion Chad Wilfong, stood sizing up his own chip shot. And just beyond their visible frayed mental capabilities was a berth in the championship match of the 121st North & South Amateur.
Minutes before, Van Paris had hung his head from the fairway as his ball bounded off the right edge of the green and into the collection area past the greenside bunker. Minutes before that, he had pulled off a remarkable par on the 19th hole that required a high and hard slice out of the pinestraw and around a tree. That had improbably extended the match. Because minutes before that, he had stalked to that ball alone in a crowd of hundreds, wearing the shame of what he termed a shank of a tee shot off the first tee.
Back in the moment, though, he was still here. And Wilfong was still there. And there was a shot to be played. A shot, in fact, that could be played.
Van Paris had a plan, actually. There was a downslope about 30 feet from the cup. Fly it to the downslope, and with some spin, the ball should settle and release. He had had a putt from about 12 feet in his quarterfinal match on the second green. It was along a similar line. It would break a little to the right.
“I flew it right where I wanted to,” Van Paris said. “And it released.”
Van Paris watched. As the ball began to gently roll and slow, he saw the line.
“It was about a cup out with 12 feet to go, and it broke.”
And then, bedlam.
Van Paris wore the stages of shock and surprise on his face, then leapt into the air, bounding into his caddie. The gallery roared, the hometown kid pumped his fist. Wilfong, the gentleman who’s played through a thousand amateur wars, walked to the cup, picked up Van Paris’ ball and walked it over to him, congratulating him.
And Wilfong still had a shot to play.
But when that shot didn’t fall, and the match had finally reached its emotional end, Van Paris found himself still standing. He will face 2021 Australian Amateur Champion Louis Dobbelaar in the final match at 6:50 a.m. on Sunday.
“I don’t know that I could say I expected him to make it, but it didn’t surprise me,” the 40-year-old Wilfong said. “I’ve seen a lot in matches over the years.”
“It never crossed my mind that I would chip that in,” Van Paris said.
Nine hundred yards away from the clubhouse, the crowd already dispersed, Wilfong walked much of the way back over the fairways with his young son. “I’m surprised you lasted this long, buddy,” Wilfong said to him.
He might’ve thought the same of Van Paris. The Vanderbilt recruit may not have always been masterful on the greens Saturday, though he did make three birdies, but he certainly was around the greens. Van Paris’ up-and-down on the fourth hole was probably even more difficult than the legend-making one, and he nearly holed that one from long and right of the green. He pulled off something similar to halve the 14th hole as well, then played a beauty of a bunker shot on 17 to square the match after Wilfong failed to convert his own up-and-down.
The pair each had good looks at birdie at the 18th, Van Paris knocking his approach from the left native area to just 8 feet. But both burned the edges of the cup, extending the match to the first hole.
With the honor, Van Paris cold-blocked his iron into the trees right of the fairway while Wilfong split the middle. His ball nestled on pinestraw, Van Paris took a full swing and blasted a high cut that initially appeared it might head toward Midland Road. Instead, it curved sharply into the fairway about 50 yards short of the green. He pitched to 6 feet and made the putt.
The game was on.
“This match, it looked like I would certainly lose, and then it looked like I would certainly win, and then lose, and then still kind of looked like I was going to lose…until the ball went into the hole.”
And now – and we offer our sincerest apologies for taking this long to get here – there is Dobbelaar, who probably entered the North & South as the hottest golfer in the field. He backed up his Australian Amateur win with a victory in the Dogwood Invitational just a few weeks ago, and has five wins and a staggering 16 top 10 finishes in the last two years.
Dobbelaar took down two top-3 seeds in one day on Saturday, defeating fellow countryman and No. 2 seed Karl Vilips 2&1 in the morning round of quarterfinals before knocking off Clemson’s Zack Gordon, seeded third, 3&1 with three straight wins on 15, 16 and 17 in the semifinals.
121st North & South Amateur
Round of 32
July 1, 2021
No. 32 Finigan Tilly d. No. 1 Christian Banke, 2&1
No. 17 Joseph Pagdin d. No. 16 John Driscoll III, 4&3
No. 25 Jackson Van Paris d. No. 8 Nick Lyerly, 1up
No. 9 Luke Gifford d. No. 24 Tommy Morrison, 4&3
No. 29 Chad Wilfong d. No. 4 Grant Haefner, 2&1
No. 20 Jonathan Yaun d. No. 13 Alex Goff, 1up
No. 5 Dongjin Park d. No. 28 Tyler Wilkes, 1up
No. 21 Peter Fountain d. No. 12 Josh Gilkison, 3&2
No. 2 Karl Vilips d. No. 31 Carson Lundell, 5&3
No. 18 Kelly Chinn d. No. 15 Abel Gallegos, 1up
No. 26 Louis Dobbelaar d. No. 7 Ben Woodruff, 1up
No. 23 Jordan Batchelor d. No. 10 Nick Robillard, 3&2
No. 3 Zack Gordon d. No. 30 William Moll, 19 holes
No. 10 Ben Carr d. No. 14 Jediah Morgan, 4&3
No. 6 Joe Highsmith d. No. 27 Trevor Hulbert, 4&3
No. 11 Brad Reeves d. No. 22 Varun Chopra, 1up
Round of 16
July 2, 2021
No. 32 Finigan Tilly d. No. 17 Joseph Pagdin, 21 holes
No. 25 Jackson Van Paris d. No. 9 Luke Gifford, 4&3
No. 29 Chad Wilfong d. No. 20 Jonathan Yaun, 3&2
No. 21 Peter Fountain d. No. 5 Dongjin Park, 19 holes
No. 2 Karl Vilips d. No. 18 Kelly Chinn, 3&2
No. 26 Louis Dobbelaar d. No. 23 Jordan Batchelor, 5&3
No. 3 Zack Gordon d. No. 19 Ben Carr, 2&1
No. 6 Joe Highsmith d. No. 11 Brad Reeves, 1-up
July 3, 2021
No. 25 Jackson Van Paris d. No. 32 Finigan Tilly, 1-up
No. 29 Chad Wilfong d. No. 21 Peter Fountain, 3&2
No. 26 Louis Dobbelaar d. No. 2 Karl Vilips, 2&1
No. 3 Zack Gordon d. No. 6 Joe Highsmith, 2&1
July 3, 2021
No. 25 Jackson Van Paris d. No. 29 Chad Wilfong, 20 Holes
No. 26 Louis Dobbelaar d. No. 3 Zack Gordon, 3&1
July 4, 2021
No. 25 Jackson Van Paris vs. No. 26 Louis Dobbelaar, 6:50 a.m.
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