Luke Clanton had quite a day on Thursday at The Country Club of North Carolina.
In a span of nine hours, the Miami Lakes, Floridaa, native dispatched the record-tying medallist and the local favourite to reach the quarterfinals of the 73rd US Junior Amateur Championship.
The 18-year-old rising high school senior who plans to play for Florida State University in the fall of 2022 first eliminated top seed and incoming Duke University freshman Kelly Chinn, of Great Falls, Va., 1 up, in the Round of 32. Clanton carried that momentum over to the afternoon when he ousted Country Club of North Carolina member Jackson Van Paris, of Pinehurst, N.C., 2 and 1, in front of 100-plus spectators.
Joining Clanton in the final eight are Carson Brewer, 16, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Nicholas Dunlap, 17, of Huntsville, Ala.; Robbie Higgins, 18, of Sarasota, Fla.; Jonathan Griz, 17, of Hilton Head Island, S.C.; Luke Potter, 17, of Encinitas, Calif.; Gordon Sargent, 18, of Birmingham, Ala.; and Cohen Trolio, 18, of West Point, Miss.
Winning all three par-5 holes with birdies proved to be the difference for the long-hitting Clanton in his afternoon encounter against Van Paris, who had 16 pars and a birdie – with the usual concessions.
“We kind of knew the whole day was going to be one-sided with the crowd,” said Clanton, who was the equivalent of eight-under par over his 35 holes on Thursday. “But it was an unbelievable experience with everyone out here. I was looking down at an iron [approach] shot and I saw a bunch of people surrounding the green, so that's kind of cool.
“I mean, people are great here. They're so welcoming every single time I come here. This is probably one of the best golf courses I've ever played in my life.”
Van Paris, the runner-up in the North & South Amateur earlier this month at nearby Pinehurst No. 2, couldn’t get any mojo with his putter.
“Honestly, I didn't feel like I hit that many bad putts, just nothing went in,” Van Paris said. “I just didn't have my best stuff this afternoon.”
Clanton now faces a second incoming Vanderbilt player in Friday’s first quarterfinal match. Sargent, who is staying with future college teammate Van Paris this week, dispatched Carter Loflin, of Duluth, Ga., 2 and 1, in the Round of 16. Sargent erased a late 1-down deficit with birdies on Nos. 14 and 17 and a winning par on 15.
“We kind of knew the whole day was going to be one-sided with the crowd. But it was an unbelievable experience with everyone out here." – Luke Clanton
Trolio, a semifinalist in the 2019 US Amateur at Pinehurst No. 2, is having a second magical run in the Sandhills. The incoming Louisiana State University freshman and son of Old Waverly Golf Club teaching professional V.J. Trolio outlasted 2019 Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup player Conor Gough, of England, in 20 holes. Gough, who redshirted this past season at UNC Charlotte, was bidding to become the first player to win both the British Boys Amateur (2019) and US Junior Amateur. Trolio advanced with a winning par on the par-4 20th after hitting a gorgeous wedge approach on No.18 to a foot for a birdie. Gough was on the fringe in two on No.18 and responded by pitching to a foot to set up his own conceded birdie.
Dunlap, the highest remaining seed (3), also needed 20 holes to eliminate Matthew Comegys, of Van Alstyne, Texas. The Alabama native is riding a wave of confidence from his runner-up showing last week in the Junior PGA and a victory in the American Junior Golf Association’s lone match-play event, the Polo Golf Junior Classic at Liberty National Golf Club.
Griz, who Monday-qualified for the Korn Ferry Tour’s Club Car Championship in March, eliminated one of the country’s hottest juniors, No.5 seed Caleb Surratt, of Indian Trail, N.C., 3 and 2. Surratt came into this week having won the Western Junior and last week’s Junior PGA Championship. One down through 10, Griz won four of the next five holes.
“Playing against Caleb, he's like a brother to me,” Griz said. “He's been playing some unreal golf. He's arguably the No.1 junior in the world right now, so to be able to take him down, it's unreal. It feels amazing.”
Potter, the lone West Coast competitor remaining, birdied his final two holes to beat incoming University of South Carolina freshman Gene Zeigler, of Florence, S.C., 1 up. Earlier on Thursday, Zeigler produced a dramatic 1-up win over No.2 seed Andrew Goodman, of Norman, Okla., converting a 12-foot eagle on the par-5 18th after Goodman had just rolled in a long birdie putt.
Brewer, the youngest remaining competitor, won five of the first nine holes in beating No.7 seed Maxwell Ford, of Peachtree Corners, Ga., 5 and 3.
University of North Florida rising sophomore Robbie Higgins, 18, of Sarasota, Fla., saw an early 3-up lead after three holes evaporate against Arjun Gupta, of the United Arab Emirates. Gupta won four consecutive holes from No. 5 to surge ahead by a hole, but Higgins claimed 11, 12, 14 and 16 to close out his opponent. He is the lone player remaining with college experience.
Two days after joining Tiger Woods, Willie Wood and Jim Liu as the only multiple medallists in championship history, Chinn found himself on the short end of a tough Round-of-32 defeat. In 2018, he suffered a 20-hole defeat in this round as the No.1 seed. The highest-ranked competitor in the field (No.39 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking®/WAGR®) lipped out a six-foot birdie putt after reaching the par-5 closing hole in two shots.
Top image: USGA/Chris Keane.