By Alex Podlogar
Photos by John Patota
Matthew Sharpstene’s first round of competitive golf since his season was shut down was a historic one.
Sharpstene, a rising junior who is transferring from West Virginia to Charlotte, fired a 6-under 64 on Pinehurst No. 4 to set the new course record on Gil Hanse’s redesign and lead the 120th North & South Amateur after the first round of stroke play on Tuesday.
With eight birdies – including three in a row on 14, 15 and the drivable par-4 16th, Sharpstene clipped the mark set by Brandon Wu and Karl Vilips during the 2019 U.S. Amateur by one shot. No. 4 reopened to great acclaim in 2018 following Hanse’s redesign.
“Everything was connecting today,” Sharpstene said, “as you can tell.”
Sharpstene has a history on No. 4, where he made a putt on the 18th hole to qualify for the U.S. Kids Golf’s Van Horn Cup, the Ryder Cup style tournament on Pinehurst No. 2 that caps the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. He’s playing his third North & South Amateur.
“I love Pinehurst,” he said. “I played U.S. Kids growing up and made one of the biggest putts of my life as a kid here. It’s just a golfer’s paradise. I love it here.”
Tuesday’s round wasn’t particularly special until Sharpstene reached the par-5 9th. He made birdie there, then another birdie at 10 before dropping a shot on the short par-3 11th. But then everything came together for good, and Sharpstene went birdie-par-birdie-birdie-birdie on the next five holes.
“I was playing really steady, and then made a 30-footer on 14,” he said. “That made me think, ‘Ok, now I got it going.’ Then I hit to 5 feet on 15 and drove the 16th and two-putted.
“It was a great day.”
Course knowledge – and a chip on your shoulder – can go a long way in golf.
Cooper Dossey, the defending North & South Amateur champion, hit 17 of 18 greens on Pinehurst No. 2 during the first round, leaving himself with plenty of stress-free birdie opportunities on his way to a bogey-free 4-under 66 to leave himself just two shots off the pace set by Sharpstene.
“Course knowledge definitely helps,” Dossey said. “I know where to be and where not to be. It was my same gameplan as the North & South and the U.S. Amateur last year.”
Sometimes, though, the gameplan doesn’t come together.
And that’s what Dossey remembers most.
Just over a month after prevailing in the North & South, Dossey was poised to make quite a run at the U.S. Amateur in Pinehurst. He was the fourth-seeded player after medal play and won his Round of 64 match. That made him 6-0 in match play on No. 2 over the span of six weeks.
And then he led Blake Hathcoat 4-up through 11 holes in the Round of 32…before losing in 20 holes.
“The last memory here on my mind is the (U.S.) Amateur, and it’s not a good one,” Dossey admits. “I let that match get away. So, as much as I’m taking from the North & South last year, it’s more to come back and get some revenge.”
As his sliding 18-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 4 dropped into the cup, Jackson Van Paris pumped his fist in a small moment of elation. Simultaneously, a crowd of about 20 gathered left of the green clapped and cheered, a stirring little moment to cap a 4-under-par 66 and a tie for third after the first round.
It’s good being the hometown kid.
Van Paris, at just 16, is one of the most highly regarded junior golfers in the country and has already committed to play golf at Vanderbilt. In 2018, he became the youngest player, at 14, since none other than Bobby Jones to win a match at the U.S. Amateur, doing it at Pebble Beach.
Still, living in Pinehurst, Van Paris has had the North & South Amateur in his sights for some time.
“It’s my first time playing, and yes, you could say I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” he said. “Playing in your hometown in front of – I had 20-25 people watching today all at some point – that’s a ton of fun. I make a birdie and they’re all cheering and hollering. You see familiar faces all around the course, which is great, and makes you feel at home.
“Sleeping in your own bed is nice, too.”
Not only is the North & South Amateur one of the most prestigious amateur championships in the country – it has been played every year since 1901 and features past championships such as Francis Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Harvie Ward, Curtis Strange and others – this year, the 2020 champion and the runner-up will earn automatic berths into the 2020 U.S. Amateur, scheduled to be played Aug. 10-16 at Bandon Dunes.
The field will be cut to 32 players for match following Wednesday’s second round of stroke play. Match play will take place on No. 2 with the championship match being played at 2 p.m. on Saturday.
Long considered one of the top junior golfers in the country, Travis Vick has continued to see his star rise at the University of Texas. Vick was masterful in Tuesday’s first round as well, sitting atop the leaderboard for much of the morning before finishing off a 5-under 65 on Pinehurst No. 4. “Golf starts on the tee, and I had a really good day with the driver,” Vick said. “I only missed one fairway, and that’s when I drove it through one. I had good looks into the greens all day.
A few more:
- The top-ranked player in the field, Georgia’s Davis Thompson, enjoyed a solid day on No. 2, making five birdies on his way to a 3-under 67. Thompson is ranked No. 4 in the world amateur ranking.
- The next-highest ranked player in the field, Texas star Cole Hammer, who is currently ranked seventh, struggled on No. 2, shooting a 3-over 73.
- North Carolina rising freshman Peter Fountain, who recently won the North Carolina Amateur, fired a 4-under 66 on No. 2, which included a double bogey.
- 2019 U.S. Amateur semifinalist and crowd favorite William Holcomb V seemed to have his round on No. 4 turned around, but suffered a double bogey on 18 to shoot 2-over 72.
- Ty Strafci, hoping to become the first grandfather and grandson pairing to win the North & South, carded a 3-under 67 on No. 4.