Photo: Chris Keane/USGA
figured out a way to stop the 2021 U.S. Junior Amateur locomotive known as Luke Clanton
: make more birdies. Trolio, 18, of West Point, Miss., registered five of them in a 10-hole stretch during Friday’s 6-and-5 semifinal victory at The Country Club of North Carolina to earn a spot in Saturday’s 36-hole championship match against Nicholas Dunlap.
Dunlap, 17, of Huntsville, Ala., rallied from an early 2-down deficit to defeat Luke Potter
, 18, of Encinitas, Calif., 3 and 2.
Clanton came into the semifinals hotter than a summer afternoon in the Sandhills, having dispatched the stroke-play medalist (Kelly Chinn), the local favorite (Jackson Van Paris) and the two-time Alabama State Amateur champion (Gordon Sargent) in consecutive rounds. He had played the equivalent of 13-under-par golf over the previous 48 holes, with the usual match-play concessions. On Friday morning, he didn’t lose a hole and registered five birdies in dispatching Sargent – like Van Paris an incoming Vanderbilt University freshman – 6 and 5.
But Trolio, an incoming Louisiana State University freshman and semifinalist in the 2019 U.S. Amateur at nearby Pinehurst No. 2, combined great ball-striking with an exquisite short game to end Potter’s brilliant run. The son of Old Waverly Golf Club head of instruction V.J. Trolio produced winning birdies on Nos. 3, 5, 8, 9 and 12 to go with pars that claimed seven and 11. All of this came after Clanton opened the match with a birdie.
“I made birdies to beat him,” said Trolio. “That's kind of how that went. [But] I've been playing super solid golf for the last couple months.
“I just [need to] keep the body tight and keep the brain solid and we'll see what happens [on Saturday].”
Trolio will be facing a player in Dunlap whose precision and power were on full display against Potter, a quarterfinalist in this year’s U.S. Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Chambers Bay with 2019 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Preston Summerhays. Potter built the early lead, taking a 2-up advantage into the inward nine with birdies on Nos. 8 and 9. This put Dunlap in a position he hadn’t faced this week, a deficit going into the second nine.
A birdie on No. 10 triggered his comeback. A three-putt bogey by Potter tied the match, and consecutive birdies on Nos. 14 and 15 – two of the most challenging holes on the Dogwood Course – all but sealed the victory. He closed out the match on the par-3 16th when Potter lipped out a 4-foot par putt.
For the 16 holes of the match, Dunlap was the equivalent of 7 under par, with the usual match-play concessions.
“It's unreal,” said Dunlap of reaching the championship match. “I've played the last six or seven weeks on the road, and I want to win everything I play in, obviously, but I've been trying to get my game ready for this week and for the U.S. Am [in three weeks]. To be able to do it, it feels great.”
Three of the morning quarterfinal matches went to the 18th hole, and beyond. With his match against Carson Brewer, 16, of Jacksonville, Fla., tied, Potter executed a perfect pitch shot from the pine straw left of the green on the par-5 closing hole before holing a 10-foot birdie putt that he needed to force extra holes. A bogey was all he needed on the par-4 19th to advance against the youngest remaining competitor.
Trolio came to the final hole 1 up against Jonathan Griz, 17, of Hilton Head Island, S.C. Griz, who Monday qualified for a Korn Ferry Tour event earlier this year, almost converted his birdie attempt from the fringe. He then conceded Trolio’s birdie putt for a 2-down defeat.
Dunlap also carried a 1-up lead into No. 18 against University of North Florida rising sophomore Robbie Higgins, 18, of Sarasota, Fla. Both hit 300-plus-yard drives off the tee on the dogleg-left hole that abuts a large pond. Higgins’ iron approach stopped in the fringe to the right of the flagstick and his eagle chip just trickled past the flagstick. Dunlap’s eagle attempt rolled 3½ feet past the hole and he deftly rolled in the birdie to seal his spot in the semis.
The two finalists are exempt into next month’s U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont (Pa.) Country Club. The champion earns an exemption into the 122nd U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. Both Cohen Trolio and Nicholas Dunlap were already in the field at Oakmont – the former via his semifinal run in 2019 and the latter a qualifier.
University of North Florida coach Scott Schroeder served as the caddie for Robbie Higgins. Schroeder’s daughter, Kaitlyn, a rising high school junior, advanced to the quarterfinals of last week’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at Columbia Country Club.
Jeff Curl, who tied for 56th in the 2012 U.S. Open at The Olympic Club, is caddieing for Nicholas Dunlap. Curl’s father, Rod Curl, the first Native American to win a PGA Tour event (1974 Colonial National Invitational), competed regularly on tour from 1969-78. Jeff has also played professionally, primarily on the Nationwide Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour).
Tim Yelverton, the short-game specialist at Old Waverly, is on Trolio’s bag.
Luke Clanton is the cousin of former USA Curtis Cup Team member and current LPGA Tour player Cydney Clanton, a North Carolina native who won the 2010 Women’s North & South Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2.
Two tees were moved up for the quarterfinals: the par-3 third measured 111 yards (up 33 yards) and the par-5 ninth played 578 yards (up 25 yards). For the semifinals, the third hole played 127 yards, the ninth 604 yards (regular distance) and the par-5 12th 527 yards (up 37 yards).
by David Shefter, USGA
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