Putter Boy, meet Putter Boy. Luke Clanton with the trophy
(photo courtesy Luke Clanton)
Pinehurst, North Carolina has been good to Luke Clanton.
At age 11, Clanton was the U.S. Kids World Junior champion at nearby Talamore Golf Club. The following year, he was promoted to the next division and shot 63 on his own ball on Pinehurst No. 2 during a best-ball competition.
By age 15, Clanton had qualified for the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst
-- missing match play in a massive 27-for-3 playoff for the final spots after shooting 5-over 145.
Today, the junior golf prodigy -- who will stay in his home state of Florida and play for FSU this fall -- won Pinehurst's major annual championship after a tough final match battle with another future Texas Longhorn golfer, and his friend of eight years, Tommy Morrison.
After seven rounds of golf in six days, Clanton
arrived at the 18th hole of the North and South final deadlocked.
But that wasn't where Clanton hoped to be.
"I said to my caddie - 'let's go right at it and try to go 1-up'," said Clanton of his thought process standing on the tee of the par-3 17th. "It was playing 188-yards and I hit an 8-iron I was so pumped," he said.
When his well-struck shot nestled in 15-feet away and his opponent Morrison missed the green to the right of the bunker, Clanton didn't think a two-putt was going to win the hole.
"I know Tommy's short game, and I knew he was going to get it up-and-down," Clanton said while making the long drive back to Florida.
When Clanton's birdie putt slid by the left edge, it was up to Morrison -- who made as many as four key 20-footers during the match -- to make yet another important putt. He delivered and the match went to No. 18, with Clanton having the honor, going back to No. 13, when he birdied to square the match.
The 18th at Pinehurst No. 2 is not short of history and dramatics, as Payne Stewart's statue reminds every Pinehurst visitor. In his quarterfinal match on Saturday morning, Clanton birdied the 18th hole to force extra holes against David Ford
On Saturday afternoon, Tommy Morrison made birdie there to knock-off Maxwell Moldovan
in their semi-final match.
On the 18th tee, Clanton again shared his aggressive strategy with his caddie. "I'm not just trying to hit the fairway," he said. "I'm going to give this one all I've got."
Some 350 yards later, Clanton was left with 150-yards from the dead center of the fairway, while Morrison found the trees on the right. After hitting a "chippy 9-iron" to the center of the green 25 feet away, from the hole's traditional back-right location, Clanton wisely lagged his birdie putt to three feet.
When Morrison failed to hole a 15-foot bogey putt, the Putterboy trophy was his.
A BATTLE AMONGST FRIENDS
Luke Clanton and Tommy Morrison have known each other for eight years. During the week at Pinehurst, they hung out together, practiced together, and dined together.
"We both had a feeling we were going to meet in the final," said Clanton. "Tommy saw the bracket and joked about it."
The Sunday final match was close the entire way. The pair both tied the opening two holes with pars and then they both birdied the third and fourth holes.
Clanton broke the tie with an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, but Morrison pulled back into a tie with a birdie on the ninth hole. Clanton fired a 31 on the front; Morrison shot 33.
Impressive golf from these two young players, who have yet to enroll in college yet defeated many impressive and older players on their way to the final.
Morrison grabbed his first lead after a birdie on the 11th hole. The Dallas native only had the lead for two holes, as Clanton made birdie on the 13th hole.
Clanton and Morrison split the next four holes.
The stage was set on the 18th tee, and under the watchful eyes of Payne Stewart and a large crowd following along, Clanton made par to win the coveted North & South. A highlight in the young golfer's life and another link that will forever bind him with the Pinehurst area.
A RISING STAR
Before qualifying for the 2019 U.S. Amateur, Clanton went head-to-head with a guy named Nicklaus at the 2019 U.S. Amateur qualifier in Florida. That would be Jack's son and then 49-year-old Gary Nicklaus, a reinstated amateur who in 2000 lost in a playoff to Phil Mickelson at the PGA Tour's Bell South Classic. After being paired together in the final round, the two players found themself in a sudden-death playoff for the last spot. Nicklaus won, but later praised Clanton's game to the media, telling the local newspaper, “I’ve never seen a 14-year-old as good as him.”
More recently, Clanton has been straddling the line between junior and amateur golf, and succeeding on both levels. Perhaps his biggest win came in the 2022 Azalea Amateur
, which capped off an amazing March where he also 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
AND A FUTURE SEMINOLE
Clanton will enroll at Florida State this fall, joining Sam Kodak (Naples, Fla.) and Jack Bigham (St. Albans, England) as members of the 2022 signing class. Coach Trey Jones has been highly anticipating Clanton's arrival.
“I’ve been waiting two years to get Luke into our locker room,” Jones said in November at the announcement event. “We know he will make an immediate impact.”
And that was before Clanton stepped his game to the next level with wins at the Azalea and North & South, and who knows where else this year. (The U.S. Amateur perhaps?)
“I’m excited to join an elite squad, and I’m ready to spend my next four years with great people,” Clanton said.