Jones Cup Invite: Nick Gabrelcik pulls in front after Day One
05 Jan 2024
by Kevin Price of

see also: View results for Jones Cup, Ocean Forest Golf Club, Nick Gabrelcik Rankings

Nick Gabrelcik (Kevin Price Photo)
Nick Gabrelcik (Kevin Price Photo)

Nick Gabrelcik grabbed the early lead Friday in the first round of the Jones Cup Invitational at the Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga.  

The University of North Florida senior shot 2-under-par 70 on the opening day of the prestigious tournament which kicks off the new year in amateur golf with a bang. 

Gabrelcik, the eighth-ranked player in the latest world amateur rankings, was one of only three players to post a score below par over the first 18 holes of the 54-hole tournament which continues Saturday and finishes Sunday. 

His round included three birdies and a bogey. 

“It was a grind. The first seven holes weren’t my best stuff, just a lot of scrambling and getting up and down for pars,” Gabrelcik said. “It was consistent golf after the first several holes.”

The others who finished under par on Friday were University of Texas golfer Tommy Morrison and Florida State’s Luke Clanton. Both players shot 1-under 71 and trail Gabrelcik by only a shot going into the weekend. 

This year’s tourney is the 20th edition of the Jones Cup and the first round was met by normal conditions for January tournament along the Georgia coast. Temperatures were in the low 40s when the first tee shot was hit Friday morning and would climb into the upper 50s by early afternoon, but winds that were blowing in the middle-teens at the start continued to gust upward of 20 mph and sometimes as much as 30 mph for most of the opening round. 

“It was difficult from the start,” said Clanton, a sophomore a Florida State who is ranked 19th in the world rankings. Our first tee shot was into a 35-mph wind and the next couple were 35-mph into as well. It was just a brutal day today.”

Severe winds are nothing new for the Jones Cup, but this year the players are also seeing a new-look Ocean Forest course for the first time. The course closed for a major renovation following last year’s tournament in early January and opened again in October. 

The course features new tee and green complexes, fewer bunkers around the greens and more sandy areas that are definitely visible to the naked-eye as you go around the course which plays along the Atlantic Ocean on the inward nine. The undulating greens are still fast, but also more firm than usual right now following the renovation. 

“It’s definitely still brutal,” said Morrison when asked about the course. “I think it’s probably a couple of shots harder. There’s a ton of slope on the greens, and if have a lot of slope and a lot of wind, it’s definitely difficult. Off the tee, there’s a bit more forgiveness since they took a lot of the shrubs out and have the sandy areas.” 

This year, the field is stronger than ever, too. It features 24 of the top 50 players in the world rankings, 45 of the top 100 and 62 of the top 200. 

The three highest-ranked players in the tournament are all in the top 10. Those are world-No. 1 Gordon Sargent who plays for Vanderbilt, No. 4 David Ford, the defending champion from the University of North Carolina and first-round leader Gabrelcik.

Ford, a Georgia native from suburban Atlanta, is back in the hunt again after shooting even-par 70 in the first round while Sargent opened with a 78 and is currently tied for 38th at 6-over. 

On Friday, Gabrelcik started out on the back nine and made the turn at even-par after making a birdie on the 18th hole which came on the heels of his only bogey of the round at the par-3 17th hole where the ocean makes for a picturesque backdrop behind the large green. 

He carried the positive momentum into his closing nine where he made birdies on the first and third holes before finishing out his day with six straight birdies. 

“The putter was really good,” Gabrelcik said. “I made a few good par-putts outside of 5- and 10-feet and also made a few birdie putts from 3 to 7-feet, so that club really saved me. 

“But, definitely on the back nine I started driving it in the fairway which is key out here to just give yourself an opportunity to hit the greens. When the conditions are like this, cold and windy, it’s a big key factor to just hit fairways and greens.”

Morrison, a sophomore at Texas, described his round as “boring golf” which was good golf on a day like Friday. His opening 18 also included two birdies and a bogey. 

He started on the front nine where he made his only bogey at the par-4 fourth. He made his first birdie at the par-4 13th and made one more at the par-4 16th to get under par for the day. 

“I hit the driver really well. You had to keep it in play and have full control of the golf ball,” he said. “I made a couple of nice saves for par. The only bogey was a three-putt. But, I was very happy with how calm and patient I stayed today.”

Clanton’s scorecard included four birdies and three bogeys. This third and final birdie came on the par-3 ninth to finish which was playing 145 yards. Clanton knocked down the flagstick as he hit a 50-degree wedge to a foot and tapped in for the birdie. 

“The mental part was big. I was super into it,” he said. “I hit it well, putted well and so just to come out 1-under par is pretty good.”

Tournament Tidbits

*Rain, rain go away: The players could get wet on Saturday as rain is still in the forecast, but the weather forecast has certainly improved from what it was mid-week for the middle round of the Jones Cup. 

The forecast had called for a 100 percent rain chance Saturday morning with the wet stuff decreasing throughout the afternoon. But by Friday evening, the weather prognosticators were calling for a 50 percent chance of rain early in the morning with the rain chance decreasing to 30 percent by mid-morning and 10 percent before noon. 

A sunny afternoon is expected to include a high temperature of 72 degrees with winds blowing no more than 15 mph in late morning. 

The Sunday forecast looks favorable, too, with temperatures again climbing into the 70s and similar winds in the forecast. 

*Champions pairing: One of Friday’s featured groups including the reigning Jones Cup champion which is David Ford playing with the 2022 champion Palmer Jackson and the current Jones Cup Junior champion Tyler Watts. 

Jackson , who plays at Notre Dame, shot 1-over 73 and is tied for eighth going into Saturday. Watts won the Jones Cup Junior in December at the Sea Island Golf Club’s Seaside Course. He shot 5-over 77 in the opening round and is tied for 33rd. 

*Noteworthy trio: Another interesting pairing for Friday’s first round was one that featured some of the younger players in the field including Morrison who is now in his second season with the Longhorns. He was the medalist at the U.S. Junior this past summer after early enrolling at Texas to join the Longhorns prior to the spring season last year. 

He played alongside St. Simons Island resident Jackson Byrd, son of local touring pro Jonathan Byrd who plays out of the Sea Island Golf Club. Jackson Byrd is still in high school but is committed to play at Clemson University where his dad once played. 

The third member of their group was Luke Poulter, son of professional golfer Ian Poulter. Luke Poulter is currently a redshirt freshman for defending national champion Florida. 

Results: Jones Cup
1INJacob ModleskiNoblesville, IN120072-74-69=215
T2NCCaleb SurrattIndian Trail, NC90075-74-67=216
T2NCJackson KoivunChapel Hill, NC90074-71-71=216
4FLNick GabrelcikTrinity, FL70070-75-73=218
T5TXNathan PetronzioBee Cave, TX70075-71-73=219

View full results for 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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