Two years ago, Ben Wong could say he mastered Pinehurst No. 2 and Pinehurst No. 8.
It’s possible he can add Pinehurst No. 4 to the list.
Wong, who teamed with Frankie Capan to win the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball at Pinehurst as a 17-year-old, fired a 3-under 69 in the first round of the 119th North & South Amateur on Tuesday.
“It’s always special coming back to Pinehurst, especially because of all the good memories I’ve made here,” Wong said. “I just get a good feeling here, whether it’s around the clubhouse or the practice areas.”
The opening round was played on No. 4 – the first championship round played on the course since it was redesigned by Gil Hanse in 2018. No. 2 and No. 8 were the companion courses for the Four-Ball in 2017.
The SMU sophomore bogeyed the first hole but came right back with a birdie on the par-5 second before a birdie at the difficult par-3 6th got him to under par for the tournament. He added a birdie on the par-5 9th, and after a bogey at the 11th, finished with birdies on 12 and 15 to finish two strokes back of the leader, N.C. State’s Benjamin Shipp.
Wong, like of No. 2 and No. 8, was a fan of No. 4.
“It was my first competitive round on No. 4, so I didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “I’m pretty comfortable on No. 2, but I really, really like No. 4. It’s extremely fair, the greens were really fast and it’s in great shape. But more than that, it’s got a bunch of really good holes and great scenery. No. 4 is just really, really cool.”
N.C. State’s Benjamin Shipp leads the North & South Amateur after the first round.
Like Wong, Shipp is no stranger to Pinehurst. Once the top-ranked junior in his class, Shipp now stars for N.C. State, but reached match play of the North & South in both 2016 and 2018, making it to the quarterfinals in 2016.
Shipp cruised through No. 4, making four birdies on the front side and six total in the round on his way to sparking 5-under 67.
Playing as N.C. State’s No. 2 player, Shipp won a team-high twice this season, was second on the team in scoring average and recorded four top-5 finishes and five top 10s.
Four players are a shot back of Shipp after the first round following 4-under 68s:
- Chandler Eaton – Ranked 15th in the world, Duke’s Eaton came into the North & South in the best of ways – fresh off a made cut in the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Eaton posted rounds of 72-70-73-74, finishing at 5-over 289 for the championship – tied for 58th overall and the third-lowest amateur in the field behind Hovland (4-under) and Brandon Wu (1-over).
- Garrett Rank – Another standout at the 2017 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball, Rank is an accomplished amateur golfer. He may be best known as a full-time NHL referee, and qualified for the U.S. Open at Shinnecock in 2018.
- Ricky Castillo – The second-ranked junior golfer in the country, Castillo will play for Florida in the fall. Castillo competed in the Junior Ryder Cup in 2018, and recently finished third at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley.
- Sam Meek – A senior at Nevada, Meek won once this season and collected two other top 5s.
William Nottingham won the North & South Amateur in 2017.
With the U.S. Amateur coming back to Pinehurst in just seven weeks, the North & South field is among the strongest of recent years. Duke’s Alex Smalley, a veteran of the North & South and the 5th-ranked amateur in the world, fired a 3-under 69 on Tuesday. Smalley recently became the first player since Rickie Fowler to win multiple Sunnehanna Amateurs. 2017 North & South Champion William Nottingham, of Clemson, shot a 1-under 71 and is tied for 19th. Isaiah Salinda, the 4th-ranked amateur in the world who plays at Stanford, opened the championship with a 1-over 73to put him in a tie for 31st.
Three Pinehurst residents are in the field – East Carolina sophomore A.J. Beechler shot even par 72 and is tied for 23rd; North Carolina senior Josh Martin and Wake Forest sophomore Eric Bae each carded 2-over 74s and are tied for 45th.
The championship shifts to Pinehurst No. 2 for the second and final round of stroke play. The top 32 players will advance to match play, which will be played on No. 2. The championship match will take place Saturday afternoon.
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutively-running amateur golf championship in the United States. Over the past century, the best amateurs in the world have vied for its coveted Putter Boy trophy. The winners now serve as legends in the game – among them Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III – and the championship continues to draw the best in amateur golf.