Editors Note: Story by Alex Podlogar, Pinehurst Resort & Country Club with permission
VILLAGE OF PINEHURST, NC (June 28, 2016) -- Leave it to an N.C. State guy to take advice from a Duke grad.
Bob Stanger, a former Duke standout who played in a number of North & South Amateurs in the 1970s, would often tell his hard-working nephew: Just birdie the last.
Stephen Franken put his uncle’s advice to good use on Tuesday, closing what was a brutally difficult day of golf with a birdie on the 18th hole of Pinehurst No. 2. As the 25-foot putt dropped, Franken pumped his fist in the shadow of the Payne Stewart statue behind the green to put the finishing touches on a brilliant two days that left him as the championship’s medalist with a two-day total of 1-under 139.
“My uncle would always tell me – and he played out here all the time – just birdie the last,” said an effusive Franken, who is the lone player under par after two rounds of stroke play in the 116th North & South Amateur. “It doesn’t matter how you’re playing, he’d say, just birdie the last. And that one felt really good.”
On a day like this, it should have. As tough as No. 2 played in Monday’s first round, it was even more demanding on Tuesday, especially with much of the round mired in intermittent rain, including several heavy downpours that led to two lengthy weather delays. No. 2 averaged a round of 77.2 and surrendered just three under par rounds.
“Somebody shot 139?!” one player bellowed incredulously at the scorer’s table at one point. “How many holes did he skip?”
It helped that Franken shook off a bogey on the tough 2nd hole with an eagle on the par-4 3rd. Franken jarred his approach from 116 yards out in the fairway, a shot that Franken said sparked what was to come.
“It was one hop. I dunked it,” Franked quipped. “And that got me really fired up. It was just pure.”
Franken bogeyed the 4th, but came back with a birdie on the par-5 5th before finishing his last 11 holes with two bogeys and two birdies. On this day, it was a monumental achievement.
“I knew I just had to stay patient,” he said. “I knew there were going to be a lot of pars and bogeys, and when I did have a birdie opportunity, to really try to take advantage of them. I just can’t tell you how much I love this course. The challenge is incredible.”
Indeed. Several of the championship’s pre-tournament favorites will not continue. After the second round, the field was cut to 32 as the championship shifts to match play. On the outside looking in include defending champion Sean Walsh, Clark Engle, Will Grimmer and U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Champion Andrew Buchanan. First-round leader Alex Smalley will advance, but shot a second-round 76 to fall to fifth.
Tyler McDaniel shot a pair of 71s to finish second in stroke play, three shots back of Franken. Joey Savoie and Andre Garcia were another stroke back at 3-over 143.
And there were flashes of brilliant play. Zander Lozano, a junior at the University of Texas at San Antonio, fired the round of the day with a 2-under 68 that included five birdies. Lozano, who began the day tied for 54th after an opening 79, enters match play as the tournament’s 10th seed.
Asked to put the round into words, Lozano was almost at a loss.
“Um, that’s kinda tough,” he said.
“I just played really well, and tried to stay conservative all day. But it was a grind out there.”
Lozano’s faced tougher challenges already this week. On the 3rd hole in the first round, Lozano realized he had one club too many in his bag, leading to a four-stroke penalty. That meant what he thought was an eagle 2 to start his championship was actually the world’s greatest par on No. 2 – he holed his approach shot from 175 yards – and that his bogey on the 2nd was now a triple.
“That was a kick to the stomach,” he said Tuesday.
Nick Hardy, who has played in the last two U.S. Opens and made the cut at Chambers Bay, tying for 52nd, was the only other round under par on Tuesday after a 69. He moved from a tie for 54th with Lozano to the championship’s 15th seed.
Two players from Pinehurst reached match play, with three-time Donald Ross Junior Champion Joshua Martin earning the 19th seed after tying for 12th. A.J. Beechler shot rounds of 75 and 74 to take the 24th seed.
The Round of 32 will be played on Wednesday afternoon. From there, two rounds of match play will take place over the following two days, with the semifinals and the finals on Friday.
The Men’s North & South Amateur Championship is the longest consecutive-running amateur golf championship in the United States. Over the past century, the best in the golf world have vied for its coveted Putter Boy trophy. The winners now serve as legends in the game – Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, Billy Joe Patton, Jack Nicklaus, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, among others – and continues to draw the best in amateur golf circles.