Luke Clanton wins Azalea Invitational (Credit: BlueToad.com)
capped off a busy month of March with a two-shot victory in the Azalea Invitational at the Country Club of Charleston. The Azalea is Clanton’s third event this month; he finished tied for third in the Dustin Johnson World Junior Golf Championship
and then finished tied for ninth in the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley
After rain wiped out the opening round on Thursday, the 54-hole event saw a lot of action at the top of the leaderboard. The course played the easiest during Friday’s first round, when Nick Prieto and former U.S. Senior Amateur champion Bob Royak both shot five-under 66.
However, the scores in the second round ballooned due to high winds. Clanton battled and shot a 72, putting him at two-under par and in a tie for the lead with a fellow AJGA competitor, Ben James
. James and Clanton were the only two players in the field to play the opening 36 holes under par. Considering there were fourteen players under par following the first round, those youngsters played some exceptional golf.
"I grinded really hard. One-over par felt like eight under on any other day," Clanton said.
It wasn't just the 30 mph winds that challenged the players, but the green speeds were dialed up, too. Making it tough for players to navigate the sloped greens at Country Club of Charleston.
"It's one of the hardest golf courses I've ever played," Clanton said. "The green speeds combined with the wind definitely made these the hardest conditions I've ever played in."
In the third round, the course eased up a bit, but not by much. There were a considerable number of 68s and 69s shot among the leaders. Clanton was one of those players that shot 69, helping him maintain his two-shot lead when he closed out the victory.
Clanton birdied the second and ninth holes in his opening nine of the final round, but back-to-back bogeys at six and seven left him spinning his wheels at two under for the tournament.
One player that was golfing at full throttle was Jonathan Griz
; a 31 on the front, with three birdies and an eagle on the par-five fifth, launched him from even par to five under and in the lead when he made the turn for home.
Kyle De Beer
also started the day at even par and pressured Clanton in the middle of the round. A bogey on the second hole didn’t deter him, and he played holes 3-15 in four-under par; putting a bit of pressure on Clanton who was a few groups behind him. However, a bogey on sixteen left him two shots off the pace in the end.
Clanton, buoyed by the challenge from Grizz and De Beer, shot a 33 on the back. Following his birdie on nine, Clanton allowed himself to check the scoreboard, that's when he saw Griz's score.
"Great timing, right?" Clanton said with a laugh. "I didn't expect him to slow down. I told myself I just needed to hang in there and make some birdies and put some pressure on him."
A birdie on 10 added some pressure. But it was his tee shot on the par three 11th, one of the hardest holes on the course, that stands out to Clanton. He hit it to four feet and rolled in the putt.
With his adrenaline pumping, Clanton found the middle of the fairway on 12, only to find his ball in a divot.
"I hit a pretty good shot from there. I got the ball up on the ridge, but it rolled back down. It was actually a pretty good bogey."
His bogey on 16, where he misjudged the wind and hit the wrong club, was erased when he rolled home a 25-foot putt.
"The pin was perched up on a ridge. I made a great roll with the perfect speed and it dropped right in the middle of the cup."
Clanton felt confident when he arrived at the Azalea.
"I knew my game was there coming into this week."
His game had been sharpened by a few close calls this month when putts didn't fall down the stretch.
Now, he has the Terracotta in his sights next month. But first, just like any high school senior, he'll have to finish up an essay and take a few tests to catch up on some school work he missed.
ABOUT THE Azalea Invitational
72 hole stroke play with a 54 hole cut on a
Seth Raynor design. Good mix of college
and mid amateurs. 7 spots available in a
Impressive list of past champions at this
traditional event. Reigning USGA champs often use
this tournament as a tune-up for the Masters.
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