Palmer Jackson (photo by Kevin Price)
will have the chance to lead from wire to wire Sunday when he goes to the first tee in the final round of the Jones Cup Invitational at the Ocean Forest Golf Club.
Jackson, a junior at Notre Dame, stretched his lead to five shots with his 3-under-par 69 score in Saturday’s second round on the 7,308-yard course that plays along the shores of the Atlantic Ocean in coastal Sea Island, Ga.
“Considering all the conditions, this is definitely up there in the top three, could be the best,” said Jackson of his round in Saturday’s blustery winds. “You can’t miss a shot out here and you have to have extreme focus and fortunately I did that well today."
Jackson, a native of Murrysville, Pa., won the Jackson T. Stephens Cup last year as well as the R Jay Sigel Match Play Championship while finishing second at the Patriot All-America Invitational in late December and also the Western Pennsylvania Open last summer.
His closet challenger going into Sunday’s final round will be Micheal Brennan
who is 4-under through 36 holes after carding a 1-over 73 on Saturday. Brennan, a sophomore at Wake Forest, was a shot back of Jackson following the first round when he got up and down for par on the finishing hole to close the day.
Brennan posted a 67 in round one while Jackson took the early lead with his 6-under 66 over the first 18 holes in the three-day, 54-hole stroke-play tournament which is the first major event in amateur golf in the new year.
“The conditions were a lot different today,” the Wake Forest golfer said. “It was definitely a lot colder and there was some pretty decent wind. I didn’t hit my irons quite as well as yesterday and a lot of that was probably the conditions. But, I didn’t play as cleanly or save as many shots as I did yesterday.”
This is the 18th year of the Jones Cup which started in 2001 prior to Ocean Forest holding the Walker Cup matches that summer.
Weather is often a big part of the story in this event as the February date can be met with less-than-ideal playing conditions even on the Georgia coast which usually has mild winters. Even so, it can be cold and damp this time of year and strong winds blowing across the sprawling Ocean Forest property can make an already-challenging golf course all the more difficult to navigate even for the top amateur players in the world.
That was again the case on Saturday.
Round two was played under sunny and bright skies most of the day, but the temperatures dropped some 20 degrees into the lower 50s after a thunderstorm Friday evening brought a cold front to the area. The colder temperatures also were the result of the steady winds that blew about 15 mph throughout most of the round with gusts going beyond 20 mph.
Those winds slowed play even more and led to higher scores throughout the 84-man field than there were in the opening round. The average score on Friday was 74.5, and Saturday’s average score was just over two strokes higher.
A total of 24 players broke par on Friday. On Saturday, only eight shot in red figures.
Only Jackson and Caleb Surratt
, a freshman at Tennessee, put together back-to-back sub-par rounds. Surratt, who plays at Tennessee, will go into the closing 18 in third at 3-under. He shot 70 on Friday and posted a 71 on Saturday.
“The course was set up tough, the conditions were really tough. The wind on the water was extremely strong, and to make par on some of those holes was a huge challenge,” Jackson said.
Jackson added that the finishing holes were the toughest to get through in a long round that took more than five hours to play. “Yeah, after hole 14, I felt like the round should’ve been over,” he said. “It was just such a mental grind all day you had to push through it a little bit harder to get through those into-the-wind holes and get in the clubhouse.”
Jackson played the final nine holes in even par with a birdie on par-5 10th which he reached in two and a bogey on the par-5 14th. He is 3-under alone on No. 10 after two rounds. He made an eagle-3 there on Friday which was his first hole of the tournament.
On Saturday, Jackson started from the first tee and made birdies on the first two holes - both par-4s, before making bogey on the third hole. He would birdie the sixth and eighth holes, however, to go out in 3-under for the round and 9-under for the tournament.
Jackson made three straight birdies on Ocean Forest’s opening trio of holes on Friday which were his 10th through 12th holes because he started on the backside of the course.
He will start on the first hole on Sunday morning.
“I was able to stick a bunch of shots within 8 feet again,” Jackson said. “If you can do that, you have a better chance at making putts on these greens because they’re difficult. “So, with more precision with wedges tomorrow, I think I’ll be in a good shape.”
The top challengers aren’t ready to concede the championship trophy to Jackson just yet. He has built himself a nice cushion with stellar play through two rounds, but with perhaps even tougher conditions facing the field on Sunday, he’ll have to survive the elements along with everyone else to hold onto the lead.
“The scores are probably less predictable,” Brennan said when asked about Sunday’s closing round that could be greeted by stronger winds. “You just kinda have to keep your head down and keep playing. You never know when something’s gonna happen. It may be to you, it may be to him. You just gotta play tough.”
Jackson has slept on leads going into final rounds in the recent past. He noted in his post-round interview following Saturday’s play that he won some of those and lost some, too.
He’ll have a game plan prepared for Sunday, Jackson added. It started with a little practice before getting out of the cold late Saturday afternoon. He planned to relax and watch sports Saturday night while resting up for Sunday’s finish.
“Hopefully, there’s something good on,” Jackson said before saying he would probably watch basketball or maybe the Olympics. He watched the NHL All-Stars skill competition on Friday night.
Others set to give chase to Jackson are Alabama’s Thomas Ponder
, Clegg Ford who plays at Mississippi State and Tobias Jonsson
who plays at Mercer University, a private college in Georgia about three hours from the coast. All three players were 2-under through two rounds.
Three other players were 1-under after two days. Those include Maxwell Moldovan
, one of the highest-ranked players in the field, Oklahoma’s Logan McAllister
and Duke’s Kelly Chinn
Jones Cup Notebook
South Bend connections:
Jackson isn’t the only player in the field who plays his college golf at Notre Dame in Indiana. Davis Chatfield also plays for the Fighting Irish and holds a spot in the top-20 through two rounds. He is at 2-over (74-72) going into Sunday’s closing 18 and is among four players tied for 20th on the leaderboard.
Alabama vs. Georgia:
Both schools are well-represented in this weekend’s tournament with several players from each school competing at Ocean Forest. Alabama’s Thomas Ponder leads the golfers from both teams with the lowest score after two days. He is 2-under and tied for fourth overall.
Ponder wore a Crimson Tide knit cap over his head during Saturday’s round while many fans following the action including the locals came out in Georgia red and black. Of course, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs played for college football’s national championship last month with Georgia winning to claim its first national crown since the Herschel Walker-led Dawgs back in 1980, 41 years earlier.
Alabama handed Georgia its only loss of the season when the Tide rolled past the Bulldogs in the SEC Championship Game played in Atlanta. Ponder was asked about the Bama-Georgia rivalry on Saturday.
“All I’m gonna say is we are 1-1 this year. We need a tiebreak,” he said.
Tobacco Road Roundball:
One of Saturday’s best viewing options in the sports world was the first of two meetings this year between North Carolina and Duke as the two ACC powers renewed their annual rivalry on the hardwood. The bitter rivals were set to play on ESPN at 6 p.m. Saturday, but Blue Devils’ golfers Kelly Chinn and Jimmy Zeng were still hitting balls on the practice range after 5 p.m.
They knew they needed to wrap up soon.
“I’m gonna cozy up to a nice heater and watch it on a nice big screen,” Zeng said of the Duke-Carolina matchup.
Zeng said he knows some of the Duke players personally.
The North Carolina men’s golf team doesn’t have anyone playing in the Jones Cup. The Tar Heels are competing this week in the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii.
Several caddies who work regularly at Sea Island are working with top amateur players for the three days at Ocean Forest.
Robert Tatro is on the bag of Garrett Rank, one of the top-ranked mid-amateur players in the field, while Mike Williamson is working with another top mid-amateur, Stewart Hagestad.
Garret Barber, a former Jones Cup champion, has used local caddy Justin Nelson for the past several tournaments.
Brent Keller drew the bag of Harris Barth, last year’s Georgia Amateur champion, Chip Dolan is carrying Ford Clegg’s bag this week while William “Taco” Headley is teaming again with Alabama standout Canon Claycomb who has had Headley on his bag in several tournaments elsewhere, too. Longtime Golden Isles resident Trey Parker is on the bag for Nick Maccario, a former player at Saint Anselm.
Alan Thrower, caddie master at Ocean Forest, made the bag assignments.