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PREVIEW: Jones Cup first major on amateur golf's New Year's calendar
02 Jan 2023
by Kevin Price of AmateurGolf.com

see also: Jones Cup Invitational, Ocean Forest Golf Club, Austin Greaser Rankings

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A new year in amateur golf begins this week on the Georgia coast with the 19th playing of the Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club on Sea Island.

The Jones Cup, a 54-hole event that tees off on Friday, will be the first major tournament in 2023. The tournament consistently attracts one of the deepest fields of the year, and this week’s event is no different even though it’s taking place about a month earlier than usual.

This week's field features nine of the top 25 players in the world in Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com rankings, including three who are ranked in the top-10.

John Wade, the director of golf at Ocean Forest, links the overall strength of this year’s field to a couple of factors in addition to the tournament’s history and prestige which has been established since the onset of the Jones Cup in early 2001 prior to Ocean Forest hosting the Walker Cup for the first time later that same year.

“We attribute some of this to 2023 being a Walker Cup year,” said Wade, noting the Walker Cup will be played this year on the Old Course at St. Andrews. “Also, college players are out of school for the holiday break and are looking to keep their games sharp for the upcoming spring season.”

This year’s tournament was moved to the first week of January with Ocean Forest set to undergo a renovation in early February when the Jones Cup is usually held. The work on the course is expected to take several months with Ocean Forest scheduled to reopen for play in early fall, according to Wade.

“The main focus will be refreshing the tees, greens, and bunkers. They have reached their life cycle, and we wanted to take a proactive approach in setting Ocean Forest Golf Club up for success for another 30 years,” Wade noted. “The layout and difficulty level of the course will remain the same. Beau Welling Design is the chosen course architect firm that has been challenged to maintain the course’s integrity while increasing playability for members.”

The prestige of the event is not lost among the players.

"The Jones Cup is one of the events that everyone looks forward to and knows that it is a great test of your game before starting the Spring season," said Sargent, who finished tied for 27th in last year's event before going on to win the NCAA men's title.

"Ocean Forest is a great venue, and St. Simons is an awesome spot to spend a week. The strength of the field is always very strong, and it attracts the best of the best. The opportunity to play and have a chance to win come Sunday is a special feeling, and a win would mean so much, especially considering the prestige around the event."

• • • • •

Name Dropping

North Carolina standout Austin Greaser, who won the Western Amateur in August, is the highest-ranked player on the field, checking in at No. 5 in the Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com rankings. Reigning NCAA individual champion Gordon Sargent of Vanderbilt (No. 5) and Maxwell Moldovan (No. 8) of Ohio State are also in the top-10.

Elite Amateur Series winner Caleb Surratt of the University of Tennessee will also be at Sea Island as will U.S. Amateur runner-up Ben Carr, who plays collegiately at Georgia Southern.

Defending champion Palmer Jackson, a senior at Notre Dame who is currently ranked 25th by Golfweek/AmateurGolf.com returns to defend his title.

Reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion and AmateurGolf.com's Mid-Amateur of the Year, Matthew McClean, along with his Irish countryman Hugh Foley, the man he defeated at Erin Hills to earn the Robert T. Jones Memorial Trophy, and two-time defending Eastern Amateur champion Evan Beck, lead the contingent of mid-amateurs.

Two interested spectators who will be keeping a watchful eye on this week's events at the Ocean Forest will be Mike McCoy and Stuart Wilson, who will captain the USA and Great Britain & Ireland sides for the 2023 Walker Cup at the Old Course at St. Andrews in early September.

Of the 16 players who were invited to participate in Team USA's practice round in early December, nine will be on hand at the Jones Cup, while GB&I will also have nine candidates in the field.

• • • • •

What's at Stake

In addition to joining an illustrious group of past champions, the winner of the Jones Cup will receive an exemption into the RSM Classic, the PGA Tour event hosted by the Davis Love Foundation at Sea Island in November.

“Having an exemption in the RSM Classic is a game-changer and helps set the Jones Cup Invitational apart from other top-level amateur tournaments,” Wade noted. “The Jones Cup Invitational is one of very few amateur golf tournaments in the world where the champion is awarded a spot in a PGA Tour event. We cannot thank (Sea Island touring pro) Davis Love III, (Love Foundation executive director) Mark Love, (RSM tournament director) Todd Thompson, the Davis Love Foundation, and RSM enough for that opportunity.

"For the young men who hope to play on the PGA Tour, the gained value of PGAU points from playing in the RSM Classic is significant and can change their lives.”

• • • • •

Past Champions

Jones Cup
Past Champions
2022 Palmer Jackson
2021 Ludvig Aberg
2020 Davis Thompson
2019 Akshay Bhatia
2018 Garrett Barber
2017 Braden Thornberry
2016 Beau Hossler
2015 Austin Connelly
2014 Corey Conners
2013 Sean Dale
2012 Justin Thomas
2011 John Peterson
2010 Patrick Reed
2009 Kyle Stanley
2007 Luke List
2005 Nicholas Thompson
2003 Gregg Jones
2001 D.J. Trahan
The Jones Cup champion boasts an impressive list of past champions, including PGA Tour winners D.J. Trahan (2001), Luke List (2007), Kyle Stanley (2009), Patrick Reed (2010), Justin Thomas (2012) and Corey Conners (2014).

Though the champion will be crowned a few weeks earlier than usual at Ocean Forest, the tournament's reputation remains as strong as ever.

“This is now a ‘can't miss’ event for many of the world's top amateur golfers,” Wade said.

Wade also noted that of the 156 players who made up the field at last year's U.S. Open, 84 played in the Jones Cup while last year's RSM Classic featured 54 Jones Cup alums, including three past champions.

• • • • •

A Look Back at Last Year

Palmer Jackson battled high winds and cold temperatures to capture last year's title at the Ocean Forest course.

The final round took nearly six hours to complete as the players merely tried to survive on the 7,308-yard course which played even longer in the gusting winds.

The Notre Dame standout survived a final round 76 to finish at 5-under 211 to earn a three-stroke victory over Oklahoma's Logan McAllister. Jackson and McAllister were the only players in the field of 84 to finish under par for the tournament.

“That was the most difficult tournament round I’ve ever had to play,” Jackson said after the final round a year ago. “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 a birdie on a lot of holes.”

ABOUT THE Jones Cup

The Jones Cup is probably the biggest of the springtime amateur majors in the United States, and the reason is the venue and the strong U.S. and international field. The past champions list is littered with PGA Tour stars, including Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Luke List, Kyle Stanley, Beau Hossler and several others.

This 54-hole individual stroke-play event, inaugurated in 2001, is played at Ocean Forest Golf Club. The Rees Jones design opened in 1995 and has hosted the Georgia State Amateur Championship, the Southern Amateur Championship and the 2001 Walker Cup Match. The Jones Cup brings together many of the finest amateurs from the United States and abroad for a three-day competition.

The Jones Cup was born from a deep commitment to amateur golf by the A.W. Jones family, who founded the Cloister and Sea Island Golf Club in 1928. The Sea Island Golf Club has played host to seven USGA championships. The Jones Cup is yet another extension of the family's strong involvement in amateur golf.

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