By Alex Podlogar
Photos by John Patota and Melissa Schaub
PINEHURST, N.C. – William Holcomb V can’t wait to get back to The Cradle.
No matter what was going to happen in his return to Pinehurst for the 120th North & South Amateur, Holcomb was always going to schedule his trip through Saturday. Sure, that’s the day of the championship match…but it also allows for a lot of golf should anything happen between Wednesday’s second round and the awarding of the Putter Boy trophy.
The overwhelming fan favorite during his wild and unexpected run to the semifinals of the 2019 U.S. Amateur in Pinehurst, Holcomb is back to play in his second North & South. And yes, the charismatic Pinehurst veteran caddie Keith Silva is right there by his side.
Holcomb admitted he struggled during his 2-over 72 on Pinehurst No. 4 in his first round on Tuesday, but made six birdies in his return to Pinehurst No. 2, including one at the last after flaring his drive right of the fairway into the native area. It was a putt that kept him safely in the field as the championship moves to the Round of 32 match play on Thursday, capping a 2-under 68 to leave him at even par. Holcomb, the 24th seed, faces No. 9 Blake Taylor in the Round of 32 at 7:24 a.m. on Thursday.
A wide, relieved grin on his face – Holcomb was the guy, after all, who came to the U.S. Amateur press conference and said, “Smile, guys, it’s only golf” – the burly Texan from the small town of Crockett said he hoped the U.S. Amateur wouldn’t be his crowning achievement. But even then, he couldn’t help but feel at ease in the shadow of Payne Stewart’s statue near the 18th green.
“It is good to be back, but I don’t want that to be the highlight of my career,” Holcomb said. “But, man, I love it here. This feels like home. Keith is on my bag again, I’m staying with the same host family from last year, and I’m back on No. 2, which is my favorite golf course I’ve ever played.”
The U.S. Amateur performance remains a big part of Holcomb’s charm at Pinehurst, but it was between shots when he was giving a running commentary to a gleeful gallery or in the lighthearted barbs between he and Silva that begat a burgeoning legend.
Moments after falling to John Augenstein in the semifinals in August, Holcomb and his wife Graycie Lee grabbed a couple of wedges and headed for The Cradle, Pinehurst’s 9-hole short course. There, as the sun descended behind the pillars of the South side of Pinehurst’s clubhouse and with a few beers on hand, Holcomb’s magic continued. He made aces on consecutive holes of the Gil Hanse-designed course – the only time that has happened since The Cradle opened in 2017.
“I’m here until Saturday,” Holcomb said. “I know I’m going to get back to The Cradle.”
But on this day, a little less than 11 months later, Holcomb was reminded again of his improbably run when he was recognized by a boy around the clubhouse.
It presented Holcomb with an idea.
“I just saw a little kid who said hi and that he remembered me,” Holcomb said. “I might go play The Cradle with him.”
“I’ve caddied for a lot of guys, for a lot of pros,” Silva said. “There’s just something about this kid. He’s just a good guy.
“That’s what it is. He’s just a good guy.”
Travis Vick had one main goal for the stroke play portion of the North & South Amateur – do not make a bogey.
He almost made it.
“I didn’t make a bogey for 35 holes,” he said, “and then I messed up 18.”
That bogey, though, may bode well for Vick. It gave him a bit of a mini match play practice round on Pinehurst No. 2.
Vick made a 6-foot birdie on the third playoff hole – the par-4 16th of No. 2 – to outlast Peter Fountain to win medalist honors.
The Texas sophomore led the field at 8 under par when he came to the tee of 18 at No. 2 during Wednesday’s second round of medal play. But a chip from short-left in front of the green ran long, leading to Vick’s only bogey of the last two days – and into a three-way playoff with Fountain, a rising freshman at North Carolina, and Illinois State’s David Perkins.
Perkins bogeyed the first playoff hole – the 14th – leaving Fountain and Vick, who each missed birdie putts under 10 feet on the par-3 15th. Finally, on 16, Vick hit his 180-yard approach shot to 6 feet, draining the putt to earn the championship’s top seed in match play.
“Now it’s just face the next guy,” Vick said. “Everybody out here who has played a lot of match play knows anybody can get hot, that anybody can play well for 18 holes.”
Peter Williamson, in 2012, is the last player to win medalist honors and win the championship.
Pinehurst’s Jackson Van Paris earned the 16th seed for match play.
Tyler Wilkes made a birdie on the first playoff hole – the first hole of No. 2 – to earn the 32nd and final seed into match play in a four-for-one playoff…Defending North & South Champion Cooper Dossey shot a 1-under 69 on Pinehurst No. 4 to finish tied for 4th in medal play…Matthew Sharpstene, who set a course record on No. 4 with a 64 on Tuesday, shot 75 on No. 2 and finished tied for 17th…Jackson Van Paris, the 16-year-old from Pinehurst, had another solid day, shooting 72 on No. 2 to finished tied for 14th to earn the No. 16 seed and set up a potential Round of 16 match with Vick…The field’s top-ranked player, Georgia’s Davis Thompson, shot 69 on No. 4 for a tie for 6th…Ty Strafaci, whose grandfather Frank Strafaci won the North & South twice in the 1930s – shot 71 on No. 2 to tie for 14th and pick up the 15th seed, setting up a potential match in the Round of 16 with second-seeded Fountain. Texas star Cole Hammer, who is ranked 7th in the world, missed the playoff for the final seed by one shot.
120th North & South Amateur
June 29-July 4
Pinehurst No. 2
Round of 32
Thursday, July 2
No. 1 Travis Vick vs. No. 32 Tyler Wilkes, 7 a.m.
No. 16 Jackson Van Paris vs. No. 17 Matt McCarty, 7:08 a.m.
No. 8 Davis Thompson vs. No. 25 Evan Davis, 7:16 a.m.
No. 9 Blake Taylor vs. No. 24 William Holcomb V, 7:24 a.m.
No. 4 William Paysse vs. No. 29 Gordon Sargent, 7:32 a.m.
No. 13 Trey Winstead vs. No. 20 Connor Schmidt, 7:40 a.m.
No. 5 Cooper Dossey vs. No. 28 Kelly Chinn, 7:48 a.m.
No. 12 Nick Lyerly vs. No. 21 Kiersan Vincent, 7:56 a.m.
No. 2 Peter Fountain vs. No. 31 Jonathan Brightwell, 8:04 a.m.
No. 15 Tyler Strafaci vs. No. 18 James Piot, 8:12 a.m.
No. 7 Dylan Menante vs. No. 26 Philip Barbaree, 8:20 a.m.
No. 10 Joe Highsmith vs. No. 23 Andy Lopez, 8:28 a.m.
No. 3 David Perkins vs. No. 30 Alex Ross, 8:36 a.m.
No. 14 Turk Pettit vs. No. 19 Blake Hathcoat, 8:44 a.m.
No. 6 Rasmus Neergard-Petersen vs. No. 27 Maxwell Moldovan, 8:52 a.m.
No. 11 Jonathan Yaun vs. No. 22 Matthew Sharpstene 9 a.m.
Friday July 3
Round of 16
Saturday, July 4