"Koala Karl" Vilips is in the quarterfinals (John Patota photo)
by Alex Podlogar
Jackson Van Paris is the local favorite, and his supportive galleries grow in numbers as he advances each round.
Karl Vilips has been competing around Pinehurst since he went by the nickname Koala Karl and was dominating the youngest ages in U.S. Kids World Golf Championships.
Nick Dunlap returns to Pinehurst just two summers after capturing the U.S. Junior Championship at nearby CCNC, showing his game translates very well on either side of Morganton Road.
And Gustav Frimodt is making new friends.
Friday’s Round of 16 and Quarterfinal matches of the 123rd North & South Amateur proved to be all-time grueling affairs, with several players seemingly most impressed with their faculties for outlasting opponents rather than delivering killer blows. Pinehurst No. 2 continues to be firmer and faster with each passing day, and those still standing – albeit barely – entering Saturday’s final day do so with equal parts satisfaction and relief.
It all begins anew in a few hours.
The first semifinal match, which will tee off at 7 a.m., sets up as one for the ages. Van Paris, who made a spirited run to the championship match before finishing as the runner-up two years ago, will face off against Vilips, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur here in 2019. Looking to become the first local player to win the North & South since Jack Fields in 2011, Van Paris will have the generous support of the community behind him, like he did in did in 2021.
It almost didn’t happen.
Van Paris was 2-down through six holes to Clemson’s Andrew Swanson, who needed 23 holes in his Round of 16 match to advance. But a dazzling par save from the native area on the seventh hole – not once, but twice – led to a critical surge in momentum for Van Paris. He won the next six holes to take a 4-up lead through 13, and though Swanson extended the match to 17, Van Paris drained an 8-foot birdie putt there to close out the match, much to the delight of the crowd surrounding him.
“That putt I made on 17 was one of the coolest moments,” Van Paris said. “The yell…it’s so fun to play in front of family, friends. The whole local support makes it that much more meaningful. It means the world.”
Karl Vilips has had great runs in big events at Pinehurst. (Photo by John Patota)Karl Vilips has had great runs in big events at Pinehurst. (Photo by John Patota)
Vilips was 2-down through 11 holes against Davis Bryant before winning three of the next four holes to take a 1-up lead, and made a slick 10-footer to save par on 18 to win. For Vilips, it’s yet another deep run in Pinehurst in a highly regarded golf tournament. But it could be the first he has won on No. 2. Many of Vilips’ past wins have been in the area, but not in the shadows of Pinehurst’s historic clubhouse.
“Pinehurst kind of feels like home to me at this point,” Vilips said. “I have played a lot of golf here, and I do feel like I have a lot of experience on this course. But I don’t know that I’ve ever actually won anything on Pinehurst. I’ve won things around the area, but to win tomorrow would definitely be special.”
He’ll have to earn it. After Van Paris’ win on 17, much of his gallery walked back to the clubhouse up the 18th fairway. A foursome ahead of North & South play was finishing on the 18th green, looking up in bewilderment as a throng of people crested the hill to witness their hurriedly raked-in putts.
Not that Vilips minds.
“It should be fun,” he said. “JVP has been a good friend of mine for a long time, and is the local favorite. So hopefully, for me, I can spoil their fun.”
Little, it seems, can spoil anything about this week for Frimodt. Not even travel woes. While still a highly ranked player – the TCU senior won the Ben Hogan Collegiate Invitational on Colonial in October – Frimodt doesn’t have the same wealth of experience on Pinehurst, or even the area.
But he gets it.
“I’ve never been out here, never seen this place,” he said. “It’s my first time setting foot here. I wouldn’t say I wasn’t expecting to get as far as possible, but just trying to do as good as I can. I’ve played great, but I’m discovering pretty fast how to play this course. You need to be pretty disciplined, hit fairways and hit the middle of the greens. I think I’ve done that pretty well this week.”
He’s done other things well. He got to Pinehurst before his luggage did, and when left without a caddie, who had to split after stroke play, he teamed up with 13-year-old Keens Cameron, whom he met through a few phone calls from many of the guys he’s gotten to know the last two weeks at the Northeast Amateur and here.
Keens was game, and that was enough for Frimodt.
“He’s great! I asked him several times if he wanted a push cart, but he’s persistent, he’s hardcore,” Frimodt said. “He keeps carrying the bag even though it’s probably a little heavy for him. He said his shoulder felt really sore on 18.”
Fortunately for Keens, Frimodt hit a dart to 6 feet on 18 for birdie to beat Anthony Delisanti 1-up, leaving extra holes out of the question. Several fellow North & South players approached Frimodt on the 18th green to congratulate him after the win.
“I didn’t know a ton of these guys out here until these last two tournaments, the Northeast and down here,” Frimodt said. “I just kind of got together with a bunch of these guys.”
Now he’ll face one of the best. Dunlap, the former U.S. Junior Champion has played in the last two U.S. Opens, and certainly looked perfectly comfortable on the course that will host the next one. He coolly took down ACC Champion David Ford 3&2 to make another deep run in Pinehurst.
“It’s just good vibes. I love the area,” Dunlap said. “It’s just familiar. Staying at a house in CCNC this week and going there every night brings cool feelings and good vibes.”
The semifinal matches are scheduled for 7 a.m. and 7:08 a.m. on Saturday. The championship match is set for 12:45 p.m. Spectators are welcome, and certainly expected with Van Paris still involved.
The thought experiment, though, was posed late Friday. With all of his success at Pinehurst over most of his life, perhaps Vilips has played here nearly as much as Van Paris, at least in the heat of battle.
Or, maybe just in the heat and humidity.
“I have been here a good bit, but only in the summer,” Vilips joked. “I don’t know what it’s like any other time of the year.
“But I definitely enjoy (Pinehurst in the summer). And hopefully again next year.”