Jacob Modleski (Kevin Price Photo)
Rudy chants echoed across the 18th green adjacent to the seashore Sunday afternoon when Notre Dame golfer Jacob Modleski
sank his final putt to close out his big finish in the final round of the Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club in Sea Island, Ga.
Modleski’s par at the difficult par-4 No. 18 allowed him to stay at 1-under-par for the tournament and kept him at the top of the leaderboard with only a couple of challengers in the groups behind him still having a chance to tie him or possibly take the prestigious championship home themselves.
But those chants proved to be fitting in the end as the freshman golfer for the Fighting Irish did indeed emerge as a surprising winner of this 54-hole tournament, which opened the new year on the amateur circuit.
Modleski came here as an alternate, not knowing if he would even get into the tournament until Thursday morning on the eve of the first round the next day.
And, too, he was definitely a longshot to win as he ranked 404th in the latest word amateur rankings coming into the tournament, which featured an 84-player field that had 45 of the top 100 players in the rankings lined up to battle for one of the game’s most coveted trophies.
Modleski, though, overcame those long odds and a long list of contenders going into the final 18 holes on Sunday to claim the biggest victory in his career. Related: PALMER JACKSON COMPLETES WIRE-TO-WIRE VICTORY AT THE JONES CUP
“I was hitting some putts before I went out for a practice round and someone came out onto the green and said ‘hey you’re in the tournament,’” he said when telling reporters about getting a spot in the field.
“So, it was a really cool moment obviously because you know now how much this tournament means for everybody. Just having the opportunity to play was phenomenal and then obviously playing well was another step for sure.”
Of course, the aforementioned Rudy chants stem from the movie “Rudy,” an iconic film based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger, who realized his dream of playing football for Notre Dame as an underdog.
Rudy finally got into a game as the last guy on the bench, and Modleski got into the golf game here as the last guy to make the field for this prestigious event.
Modleski became the second player from Notre Dame in the last three years to win the Jones Cup, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. Two years ago, current Irish standout Palmer Jackson won the tournament to become the first Notre Dame player to claim the winner’s trophy.
Jackson played again this year and finished tied for 21st at 9-over-par. The two Irish golfers took a picture together with the championship trophy following the awards presentation late Sunday afternoon.
The victory by Modleski made Notre Dame the first collegiate program to have multiple winners in the history of the tournament. Jim Stahl, also on hand Sunday to congratulate the winner, is a Notre Dame graduate and one of the founders of the Jones Cup which was a vision he shared with Bill Jones III, past president of the Sea Island Company which has a deep history with amateur golf.
“It’s a testament to our team, our mentality,” Modleski noted. “These tournaments aren’t easy to win. And being able to see that Palmer had done it was really a cool example for me to follow. It’s just cool for the team.”
Modleski was the only player to finish under par after the three rounds this week. He won by a shot over two players who finished at even-par following Sunday’s play.
One of those golfers was Tennessee sophomore Caleb Surratt who fired the round of the weekend over the closing 18 with his 5-under 67 which gave him a chance to pull out a come-from-behind victory himself.
The 11th-ranked player in the world, Surratt made his way to 1-under for the tourney with three consecutive birdies on the back nine before a bogey at the par-4 16th which played to a back pin for Sunday’s final round ended his surge and ultimately his title hopes.
The runner-up finish was the second in a row for Surratt, a former Jones Cup Junior winner who also won the individual crown last spring at the SEC conference tournament played at Sea Island. Surratt finished second last year in the Jones Cup which ended with a rousing finish when champion David Ford drained an 18-foot downhill putt to claim victory by a single shot with Surratt playing with him in the last group.
Ford, a Georgia native who plays for North Carolina, finished tied for 16th this year at 7-over the championship.
Also tying for second this year was Auburn golfer Jackson Koivun who posted a second straight 71 score on Sunday to finish at level-par for the weekend.
First-round leader Nick Gabrelcik, the world’s eighth-ranked player, made a run at the top of the leaderboard Sunday before carding a 73 score which left him in solo fourth at 2-over. The North Florida player led after Friday’s first round at 2-under and followed that with a 75 in round two.
Luke Clanton, the Florida State sophomore who led after two rounds at 1-under, slipped into a tie for 11th at 5-over with a 78 on Sunday.
There wasn’t a dramatic finish to this year’s final 18, though one seemed possible late in the round with as many as four players sharing thelead with the final few pairings all on the back side of the challenging course which plays along the ocean.
But when the final group reached the 15th hole, only high-school standout Blades Brown had a shot at amateur golf glory.
Brown birdied that par-3 hole over marshland when he hit his tee shot pin high and found the cup on his downhill birdie putt to get into the red again at 1-under for the tournament. His par save with an up-and-down at the next hole allowed him to keep a share of the lead with Modleski who was already in the clubhouse at 1-under.
The championship was decided, though, when the Brentwood (Tenn.) Academy standout made a triple-bogey 6 at the long par-3 17th hole with some 50-plus people in the gallery around the putting surface.
Brown, who also would have made for a good underdog story here as a talented junior with plenty of game, found the bunker behind the green with his tee shot. Left with a tough shot from the sand, his ball came out low and hit the lip of the bunker and skirted into the marsh next to the green. Forced to take a drop, his short pitch nudged the hole but trickled past the cup. The 16-year then missed his comeback-putt and saw his championship chances disappear.
That left him to play the 18th with the winner already decided. Brown ended up shooting 75 and tying for fifth at 3-over.
For Modleski, it was a closing stretch that included five birdies in his final nine holes that fueled his improbable triumph by the Atlantic seashore.
Starting the day three shots out of the lead, he made the turn a 1-over for the round, but he found his grove as soon as he hit the back nine. Modleski made birdies from 4 feet on 10, 12 feet on 11, 15 feet on 13 and also 15 feet on 14 before another birdie at the par-3 17th which plays toward the ocean in the backdrop for his fifth birdie in eight holes.
That back nine is one he’ll remember for a lifetime. “I’ve hit the ball as well before as I did, but to make so many birdies in that stretch was impressive,” said Modleski who signed for a 3-under 69 in the final round.
“To make all those putts, knowing each one was important, especially on tough greens which were in great shape, it was especially cool when they mattered so much because the leaderboard was tight all week.
“I just kept telling myself to stay patient, wait for those par putts to become birdie putts. If you start hitting a couple close, you can take it really deep. It took me until the back nine of the final round to where I started hitting four or five wedges or irons close, and then when I did, I converted all those putts and the score went down significantly.”
And all those birdie putts in the fourth quarter - er the final round - made him another Rudy story for good ole Notre Dame.
Tournament Notebook:* More on the champ:
Jacob Modelski began his first season this fall with the team at Notre Dame following a solid finish to his career in the junior ranks.
This past summer, he finished second at the Western Junior Championship before winning the Indiana Boys State Junior and finishing sixth at the Indiana Open Championship.
Also he tied for 17th in the stroke-play portion of the U.S. Amateur and also was 17th in the U.S. Junior Am.
In one of his fall tournaments with the Fighting Irish, Modelski tested his game against some of the best players in golf overseas when the team played at the St. Andrews Collegiate Invitational in Scotland in late October. That event included Vanderbilt and North Carolina, two of the nation’s top programs with talented rosters.
“It was cool to play with those guys and see them play and feel like I was in the same boat ball-striking wise,” he said. “I knew I needed to sharpen up my short game a little bit, especially on tough courses. It just needs to be good, and it was cool to see it all come together this week.”
Also this week, he played nine holes on Wednesday with his teammate and former Jones Cup winner Palmer Jackson and a full 18 on Thursday after learning he had a spot in the tournament as an alternate when another player withdrew before the start.
He tried to acquire as much course knowledge as he could from Jackson, though his Notre Dame teammate was also seeing the new-look Ocean Forest Golf Club course for the first time this week since it underwent an extensive renovation during the last year.
“I got to pick his brain a little bit,” Modelski said. “This was the first time I’d been here, so it was good just to have somebody who has played so well with me both days.”* The spoils of victory
: In addition to getting a winner’s trophy to keep for himself, the Jones Cup champion also receives the Lane Williams Medal named in honor of a longtime rules official in Georgia who loved this particular tournament and organized the rules officials each year.
Also, the Jones Cup champion is guaranteed a spot in the RSM Classic, a PGA Tour fall tournament hosted by Sea Island touring pro Davis Love III and the Davis Love Foundation at the Sea Island Golf Club. It will be played in November.
“I didn’t know that until Palmer (Jackson) told me. He told me after the round,” Modelski said about the RSM invite.
* A glance at sea: After marking his ball near the hole and moving to the side of the green to give way to his partners for their next shots, tournament title contender Blades Brown had his backed turned into the action and was staring out toward the expansive waters of the ocean beyond the final hole at Ocean Forest.
Perhaps, he was soaking in the atmosphere one last time as the sun was going down in the distance while pondering what might have been after his strong and impressive run at the championship as a top-ranked junior player taking on the older players already in the college ranks.
Brown will be back in class Monday at Brentwood Academy outside Nashville, Tenn., as he returns to school from the holiday break. The college players all will be returning to their respective campuses as well pretty soon if they haven’t already to attend class and began to gear up for the spring season ahead.
ABOUT THE Jones Cup
The Jones Cup is probably the biggest of the
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
This 54-hole individual stroke-play event,
in 2001, is played at Ocean Forest Golf Club.
The Rees Jones design opened in 1995 and has
the Georgia State Amateur Championship, the
Southern Amateur Championship and the 2001
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
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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