Jackson Van Paris confers with his caddie (Zach Pessagno photo)
by Alex Podlogar, Pinehurst
In the air, the ball looked great.
On the green, it looked good.
Until it didn’t.
“I got Pinehurst-ed,” Nick Dunlap said.
This particular Rossing was on the par-3 15th hole of Pinehurst No. 2, and came in the Round of 32 of the 123rd North & South Amateur. Playing a little more than 200 yards on an increasingly sweltering Thursday and with a hint of a breeze – the hint being that it was supposed to be coming out of the northeast, but that was the only hint as the wind swirled amidst the pines, confusing more than one player – the tee shot into the 15th green was particularly troublesome.
“To hit that green from 210 yards, you have about 15 feet x 15 feet to land it,” Dunlap said. “I hit it really good, hit it pin-high and it just tricked and trickled…”
You say Pinehurst-ed, we say Rossed. Tomato, To-mah-to.
Dunlap made bogey, only his second of the day, but his second straight in his grueling, well-played match against Minnesota’s Ben Warian. But the same went for Warian on 15 – only his second bogey, and his second straight – and their match remained tied even after they finished 18 holes and were forced to go two more.
The confounding was only beginning.
Three days ago, 1.5 inches of rain fell onto Pinehurst No. 2, leaving one player a day ago to suggest that while still difficult, the greens could at least be considered a level of “soft.”
But that was a lifetime ago. No. 2 is beginning to show its U.S. Open teeth.
Seven matches of the 16 played Thursday went extra holes. Players were forlornly looking skyward seeking answers from the wind or swaying pinetops, or looking down at their misfortune as a drive that had drifted merely a yard off the fairway and into the native area left only some sight of the ball, nestled there in a wire grass bush. Balls rolled off of greens or kicked violently away from hole locations, the approaches too daring.
“You’re going to hit some good shots that get some bad breaks,” said ACC Champion David Ford, who was one of few who seemed comfortable throughout his 4&2 victory over Preston Stout. “If you can stay level-headed throughout those, that’s really important to have success out here. I feel like I’ve done a good job of that last year, and this year as well. Pinehurst gives a lot of bad breaks to good shots, but that’s U.S. Open-style, and I love it.”
Dunlap faced it again on the first playoff hole against Warian, the par-4 first. With just a wedge in his hand from the fairway, Dunlap read the wind as helping.
It was not.
The ball bounded short of the green off the knob protecting the left side, leaving him a difficult up-and-down. He ran his chip by 7 feet, but calmly made a slippery putt to save par and extend the match.
Next, it was Warian’s turn to feel perfection’s folly. With just 154 yards into the second green, he too had just a wedge. But his approach rode the wind a touch too far, landing on the subtle downslope left of the pin and off the green. “Wow,” Warian said as the ball was in flight. “Double wow,” he said as he watched it bounce over the green.
Dunlap, who won the U.S. Junior at CCNC two summers ago, took an aggressive line at the pin – perhaps too aggressive – but was rewarded by holding the green on a tidy flat part just right of the pin. He had 8 feet for birdie, and after Warian’s chip came up short, buried it to much joy – and relief.
“That. Was. A. Grind,” he said.
Jackson Van Paris, who had made Pinehurst look free and easy the last two days as the medalist and top seed in his hometown event, also felt No. 2’s razor edge. Locked in a tight match, Van Paris jarred an 18-footer for par from the fringe on 16 to take a 2-up lead on Australian Jye Pickin, though watched as Pickin responded by making a dazzling birdie on 17 to send the match to 18.
Pickin, though, found the pines and native area off the tee, then left a tricky – “impossible” might be a better adjective – pitch well short, and Van Paris’s calm par was enough to slide by, 1-up.
“I was probably still a little too loose on the first few holes,” Van Paris said. “But I definitely think it helped being fresh today, not having had to grind out a score yesterday.
“But today was the opposite. It was stress all day. Jye kept the pressure on me all day and it was very back and forth. It feels great to get rolling in match play.”
Other notable victories included a 2&1 victory by Karl Vilips, who may be the only player who might have as much experience here as Van Paris. Defending champion Luke Clanton, though, was eliminated after Teddy Lin made five birdies in a commanding 5&4 win.
The championship moves on to the Round 16 and quarterfinals on Friday. The semifinals and championship matches are scheduled to be played on Saturday, with the final set for a 12:45 p.m. start on No. 2.
Spectators are welcome. Some rain, maybe, too.