Palmer Jackson (Kevin Price for AmateurGolf.com)
will always remember his final round in the 2022 Jones Cup Invitational.
For starters, it finished off the biggest victory to this point in his young career. But also, he had to battle the toughest playing conditions he had ever faced over 18 holes before he could hoist the champion’s trophy in the prestigious tournament held at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga.
“That was the most difficult tournament round I’ve ever had to play,” said Jackson, a junior standout at Notre Dame. “I think I have faced similar conditions to that before, but not on a golf course where you’ve got to hit it straight on every hole. And, when the wind picked up out here out by the coast, it was a true challenge. Just making par felt like birdie on a lot of holes. That’s fun to do, but not when you’re in the lead. So, I’m happy I got it in.”
Jackson led from wire to wire in the 18th edition of the tournament played near the shores of the ocean on the Georgia coast. He closed the tournament Sunday with a 4-over-par 76 score which allowed him to finish the 54-hole tournament at 5-under 211 and post a three-shot win.
Jackson’s final-round score was obviously his highest of the weekend, but it was still pretty impressive considering the severe conditions the players faced Sunday with temperatures remaining in the low- to-mid 40s and strong winds blowing 25 mph throughout the round with gusts coming in harder than that especially on the holes nearest the sandy shores of the Atlantic Ocean.
“It’s really just a mental challenge, fighting through the wind,” Jackson said. “It takes a lot out of your body, too. It feels like you’re playing 36 holes when you’re only playing 18. Out here, you have to be so focused already, and with that much wind, your focus has to intensify. That’s what is most difficult, but it’s really rewarding to have it pay off.”
It took nearly six hours for the players to finish their rounds Sunday with players teeing off in threesomes on both sides of the 7,308-yard course which played even longer in Sunday’s brutal wind.
When all the scores had been counted, only two players were below par for the tournament which featured 84 of the best amateur golfers across the globe.
One of those players was Jackson, of course, and the other was Logan McAllister who plays at Oklahoma. The senior All-American for the Sooners carded an 1-under 71 in the closing round to grab the runner-up position on the final leaderboard with a 2-under score over the three days.
Jackson and McAllister were two of only four players who were able to finish under par in two of the three rounds as well. Jackson opened with a 66 on Friday to take a one-shot lead into round two when he shot a 69 while stretching his lead to five strokes going into Sunday’s finish.
McAllister started out with a 73 on Friday before shooting 70 and 71 the last two days. His 1-under score on Sunday was the lowest by any player in the field.
The other two golfers scoring in red numbers twice were Pietro Bovari and Caleb Surratt who ended up tying for 16th overall with a large group of players. Bovari shot a 71 on Sunday to equal the best score of the final round. He shot 70 on Friday, but the University of Virginia player was hurt by his 82 on Saturday which cost him a much better finish.
Meantime, Surratt who played with Jackson in the final pairing, was third going into the final 18 after posting 70 and 71 over the first two days before the University of Tennessee standout’s closing 82 sent him backward on the leaderboard.
Actually, on Sunday, no one shot a round of par. The next best score to the 71s posted by McAllister and Bovari was a 73 by five different players. One of those was Reid Davenport of defending Southeastern Conference champion Vanderbilt who ended up finishing in a six-way tie for seventh at 4-over for the three rounds.
Virginia’s Ben James took solo third at 1-over for the championship. He opened with a 69 Friday before playing the final two rounds 4-over. He was one of the players with a 73 on Sunday.
Two players - Nick Gabrelcik of North Florida and Kelly Chinn from Duke - shared fourth at 2-over for the tournament.
Wake Forest’s Michael Brennan, who was second behind Jackson after each of the first two rounds, settled for a 79 in the final round while playing in the last group and wound up solo sixth at 3-over.
Jackson, who won two times last year, also earned an invitation to the RSM Classic this coming November with his win this week. The PGA Tour event is hosted by the Davis Love Foundation and is played at Sea Island Golf Club.
“That was definitely on my mind today, a little extra motivation,” Jackson said of the RSM invite. “I was happy I was able to control my emotions enough to succeed. I’ve never played in a PGA Tour event, so this will be new ground for me, but definitely something I’m looking forward to.”
He maintained the lead throughout the final round and his spot atop the leaderboard was never really threatened. Jackson said he felt like his swing was as good Sunday as it was the two previous days, but like everyone, he wasn’t immune to the tough conditions.
Jackson made a bogey on the par-4 first but rebounded to par the remaining eight holes on the outward nine to drop only one shot. He also made bogey on the par-5 10th which played into the wind and also made bogeys on the par-4 16th and par-3 17th which played into the teeth of the wind off the ocean.
“I did feel like my game was as good,” he said. “I had to hit certain shots I didn’t want to hit because of the situation I was in.
“I had enough trust in myself that I knew if I made a mistake that I could get it back if I needed to. I played a little bit conservative on some holes today just to avoid a big number, but throughout the day, I tried to focus on myself and make myself as comfortable as I could. That was my goal.”
And of course, he wanted to win one for ole Notre Dame, too. After all, inscribed on one of his headcovers was “God. Country and Notre Dame.”
Jackson joins an impressive list of champions in the Jones Cup that includes current PGA Tour stars and major winners Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed and several others who have gone on to play in the professional ranks.
“There are so many great players here, so many great players that have won this event before,” Jackson said. “To have my name among theirs is a true honor. This is a top-tier event, one of the best I have ever played, and to be champion is something I’ll never forget.”
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Jones Cup Notebook
The Golden Dome:
The awards presentation was just a little extra special this year for longtime Jones Cup tournament chairman Jim Stahl.
A Notre Dame alum, Stahl helped present this year’s championship trophy to Palmer Jackson, who is currently playing collegiate golf for the Fighting Irish.
Stahl, a former U.S. Senior Amateur champion, was instrumental in starting the Jones Cup at Ocean Forest back in 2001 prior to the club hosting the Walker Cup matches several months later. Also present for Sunday’s awards ceremony was Bill Jones III, whose family founded the Sea Island Company which he was leading at the time this event was started.
Jackson said it was special for him, too, to get the winner’s trophy from someone with Notre Dame ties.
“It certainly was,” said the current junior in South Bend, Ind. “Every day on the first tee I shook his hand. And, he asked me how I did the day before, I told him. He was proud of me. I knew it was just more than me playing out there. There were some other people helping me out, so I was fortunate to be able to win it in front of him.”
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New prize for the champ:
In addition to getting the Jones Cup championship trophy, Jackson became the first champion in this invitational for top amateur players to receive the Layne Williams medal.
The honor is named after Williams, a long-time rules official who was there when the Jones Cup started. Williams passed away this past year.
He served the Georgia State Golf Association as Senior Director of Rules and Competitions for many years before becoming a Senior Advisor in 2019.
Also a certified rules official for the United States Golf Association, Williams served on the rules committee for close to 60 USGA championships including 14 U.S. Opens, two U.S. Amateurs and 18 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championships.
Williams was inducted into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame in 2016.
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A Record-High: Putting on a major golf championship is a major task, even in amateur golf. John Wade, director of golf at Ocean Forest, noted that this year’s tournament got help from 160 volunteers, the most to work this tournament played for the 18th time this week.
Those volunteers included rules officials from the state golf association who are vital to the tournament’s overall success. The volunteer group also included club members and local junior golfers including members of the Glynn Academy high school team which toured the course filling divots with sand late Saturday afternoon near the completion of round two.
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Peach State pride: The state of Georgia was well-represented by players currently on the rosters as state universities including the University of Georgia, Georgia Southern University and also Mercer University.
Tobias Jonsson, who competes for Mercer, a private school located some three hours from Sea Island in the middle of the state, led all the players from the state schools by finishing tied for seventh at 4-over-par 220 for the 54-hole championship.
Ben Carr from Georgia Southern also recorded a top-20 finish with a 7-over 223 score to tie for 16th. Carr won last summer’s Southeastern Amateur on his home course in Columbus, Ga., after also winning the tournament back in 2019.
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SEC prowess: The strength of golf in the Southeastern Conference was on full display for three days at Ocean Forest.
At the conclusion of the championship, 10 players who are currently playing on teams in the SEC were among the top 25 on the leaderboard.
The low SEC golfers were Vanderbilt teammates Reid Davenport and Matthew Riedel and also Mississippi State’s Ford Clegg who were among those tied for seventh overall at 4-over 220.
Vanderbilt actually had eight players competing in the Jones Cup. Four of those players finished in the top 25. The others were Cole Sherwood (tied 13th) and Jackson Van Paris (tied 16th).
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Just a sleeve: Jackson was so sharp this week with his overall play on the difficult Ocean Forest course which plays through forests and natural wetlands that he didn’t lose a single ball while competing over the 54 holes.
In his post-round interview Sunday inside the Ocean Forest clubhouse, Jackson first mentioned that he only used three balls during the course of play, one each day. He then quickly corrected himself to note that he actually used four balls over the three rounds. He did go to a second ball in Friday’s first round after his original ball got scuffed up a bit when his tee shot on the third hole found the cart part.
“It was downwind, a par-5,” he said. “I ended up having like 188 (yards) in. It went like 400 yards, so I guess I was a little lucky.”
The hole was actually his 12th of the day as he started his first round on the back nine. He made a birdie for his fourth in a row and sixth of the day. He also made eagle on the par-5 10th to jump-start his round before making two bogeys on his opening nine. Jackson shot 6-under 66 for the 18.