Isaiah Jackson (Memphis Athletics photo)
ATLANTA – Last August, Isaiah Jackson got a phone call five days before the start of the U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach. He had moved from the alternate list to the field list. It just ended up being a short week.
Jackson, an incoming junior transfer at the University of Memphis, had rounds of 80-75 in stroke play that left him well outside the match-play cut. He had tasted the top level, and he didn’t like how he’d performed.
“I remember telling my dad, I was like, ‘Listen, I’m going to be ready for the Patriot….I’m going to win it, I’m going to be ready. I’m not going to show up unprepared.’”
True to his word, six months later the Patriot All-America, an off-season college event for the All-Americans at every level, turned out to be Jackson’s breakthrough victory. He won by three shots against college golf’s best.
By that time, Jackson had moved inside the top 500 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He had experienced a semester of Division I golf after spending the previous two years at Meridian (Miss.) Community College. He was working single-mindedly on his short game.
Case in point: After Jackson identified his wedges as a problem area, he created a new routine that had him hitting as many as 100 wedge shots on the team TrackMan just as a warm-up to the actual practice session. No more pounding balls and then hitting the short-game facilities as an afterthought. Jackson got deliberate about it.
“I learned how to control them and flight them and control spin and hit different shots, just really worked hard throughout the whole semester,” he said.
Over the course of a 20-minute conversation about his golf game after the final round of the Dogwood Invitational, Jackson brought up his wedge game six different times. It is really that important in his recent rise.
Jackson hits a low, powerful bullet. Add finesse around the greens, and suddenly, the lefty can score, too. He was second in scoring in his debut season at Memphis.
There are fireworks, too.
Jackson was three groups ahead of the leaders in the final round of the Dogwood at Druid Hills Golf Club last week. A day after Davidson junior Alex Ross had a 15-under 57, Jackson put Druid Hills members on alert again. He turned at 6-under 30, and was 10 under by the time he reached the 16th tee.
A par-bogey-par finish ended his chances of going sub-70, but a final-round 63 still got him to 20 under, one shot short of winner Brandon Mancheno
“As crazy as 57 is, it was out there if you have the wedge game and you can attack flags,” Jackson said. “We were joking around about how cool would it be for someone else to shoot it or him shoot it again.”
Jackson took it from a joke to a prospect, and in the process made himself that much more visible on the highest level. That has been his story these past three years. He’s a small-town Mississippi kid whose growth path has been anything but a straight line.
At Red Bay (Ala.) High School, Jackson was a member of the 48-person graduating class of 2016. He wasn’t a highly sought-after recruit, so when the Division I walk-on opportunity he’d been eyeing suddenly evaporated, he found himself at Meridian Community College, 190 miles south of his hometown of Golden, Miss.
“Just a high school kid wanting to play Division I golf and it ended up not working out,” Jackson said. “It’s worked out well since then.”
Jackson won four times at Meridian. His freshman year culminated with a victory at the 2017 MACJC State Championship. Jackson holed a 20-footer for birdie on the first playoff hole to clinch it.
Halfway to the hole, he knew it was in. Rhett Walters, a buddy who was serving as a volunteer assistant coach that week, was behind him watching it, until suddenly he wasn’t.
“When it went in, I fist pumped and I turned around and he wasn’t there, I had no idea where he went,” Jackson said. “He comes up to me later, he’s like, ‘I can’t move my arm.’ He first pumped so hard that he couldn’t move his arm for two days.”
A year later at that same event, Jackson took a 16 on a par 5 on his way to an opening 84. He rebounded with even-par 72 and helped his team to the title.
By that time, Jackson already knew he was transferring to Memphis when his second year at Meridian was up. The process happened relatively quickly. Jackson sent his resume to head coach Blake Smart, and two weeks later, Smart showed up to a tournament to see him play. It was 50 degrees and windy.
“I’m glad I played good,” Jackson said. “I think that had something to do with him offering me the next week.”
Arriving at Memphis has been a huge factor in Jackson’s growth. Jackson wants to keep climbing the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He wants to be inside the top 300 by the time the summer ends.
His schedule should help. He’ll play the Sunnehanna Amateur, the Southern Amateur and the Western Amateur over the course of the summer. He also has a spot in the Web.com Tour’s Wichita Open courtesy of his Patriot win.
Jackson has never been to Kansas. Many of these venues introduce him to parts of the country he’s never experienced.
“Traveling everywhere is just awesome for me,” he said.
Another bit of incentive to keep getting better.
• • •
ALL EYES ON THE AMATEURS
: When the U.S. Open starts on Thursday, there will be 16 amateurs in the field. Eleven of those men earned their way in through sectional qualifying, while five will play courtesy of an exemption earned by way of a victory at some of amateur golf’s most prestigious events.
Get to know this year’s amateur class
by checking out our U.S. Open Sectional Qualifying roundup, and be sure to check out their tee times
for the first two rounds here.
• • •
SEE YOU ON THE NEXT LEVEL
: One of the perks of playing the Arnold Palmer Cup, the annual match that pits U.S. collegians against their counterparts from around the world, is that there are sponsor exemptions on the line for the MVPs.
At the end of last week’s matches, which the Internationals won on U.S. soil
for the first time since 2009, Auburn’s Julie McCarthy and Arizona State’s Chun An Yu were selected to play the Evian Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational, respectively, in the coming year.
• • •
STAT OF THE WEEK
: IT NEVER GETS OLD
A course record of 15-under 57.
In case you haven’t read about Alex Ross’ 15-under 57 at last week’s Dogwood Invitational, get yourself caught up
. It was easily the biggest news in golf last week.
• • •
TWEET OF THE WEEK
: MID-AM SPOTLIGHT