Palmer Jackson extends his lead at the Jones Cup Invitational


Palmer Jackson extends his lead at the Jones Cup Invitational

Palmer Jackson (photo by Kevin Price)

Palmer Jackson has a chance to lead from wire to wire on Sunday when he goes to the first tee in the final round of the Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club.

Jackson, a junior at Notre Dame, extended his lead with his 3-under-par 69 result in Saturday’s second round at the 7,308-yard course, which sits on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean on the shores of Sea Island, Georgia, runs, five shots out.

“Definitely in the top three given all the conditions, could be for the best,” Jackson said of his lap in blustery Saturday. “You can’t miss a shot out here and you have to be extremely focused and luckily I did that well today.”

Jackson, a native of Murrysville, Pennsylvania, won the Jackson T. Stephens Cup as well as the R Jay Sigel Match Play Championship last year and finished runner-up at the Patriot All-America Invitational in late December and also at last summer’s Western Pennsylvania Open.

His secret challenger ahead of Sunday’s final round will be Micheal Brennan, who is 4-under over 36 holes after carding a 1-over 73 on Saturday. Brennan, a sophomore at Wake Forest, was a throwback to Jackson after the first round as he paced the last hole to end the day.

Brennan hit a 67 in round one while Jackson took an early lead with his 6-under 66 over the first 18 holes of the three-day, 54-hole stroke play tournament, which is amateur golf’s first major event of the new year .

“The conditions were very different today,” said the Wake Forest golfer. “It was definitely a lot colder and there was a pretty decent wind. I didn’t hit my irons quite as well as yesterday and that was probably due in large part to the conditions. But I didn’t play as cleanly or save as many throws as yesterday.”

This is the 18th year of the Jones Cup, which began in 2001 before Ocean Forest hosted the Walker Cup games that summer.

Weather often plays a big part in this event as the February date can be hit with less than ideal playing conditions even on the Georgia coast which normally has mild winters. Even so, it can be cold and humid at this time of year, and high winds blowing across the vast Ocean Forest grounds can make an already challenging golf course even more challenging for even the world’s best amateur players.

It was the same again on Saturday.

The second round was played under sunny and bright skies for most of the day, but temperatures fell about 20 degrees into the low 50s after a thunderstorm brought a cold front to the area on Friday night. The colder temperatures were also the result of the steady winds blowing around 15mph for most of the lap, with gusts going in excess of 20mph.

These winds slowed play even more, leading to higher scores across the entire 84-man field than in the opening round. Friday’s average score was 74.5, and Saturday’s average score was just over two strokes higher.

A total of 24 players broke par on Friday. Only eight were in the red on Saturday.

Only Jackson and Caleb Surratt, a freshman in Tennessee, put together back-to-back underperforming rounds. Surratt, who plays in Tennessee, will go into the final round third in 3-under. He shot 70 on Friday and posted a 71 on Saturday.

“The course was set up hard, the conditions were really tough. The wind on the water was extremely strong and making par on some of these holes was a big challenge,” said Jackson.

Jackson added that the final holes were the most difficult to negotiate in a long loop that lasted more than five hours. “Yes, after hole 14 I felt like the round should have been over,” he said. “It was such a mental grind all day that you had to push yourself a little bit harder to get through those whirlpools and get into the clubhouse.”

Jackson played the last nine holes on par-even with a birdie on the par-5 10, which he hit in 2, and a bogey on the par-5 14. He is 3-under alone on the No. 10 after two rounds. There he made an eagle 3 on Friday, which was his first hole of the tournament.

On Saturday, Jackson started from the first tee and birdied the first two holes – both par fours – before bogeying the third hole. However, he would birdie on the sixth and eighth holes to finish the round 3-under and the tournament 9-under.

Jackson made three straight birdies on Friday on Ocean Forest’s opening trio of holes, which were his 10th through 12th holes because he started at the back of the course.

He will start on the first hole on Sunday morning.

“I was able to keep a few shots within 8 feet again,” Jackson said. “If you can do that, you have a better chance of making putts on those greens because they’re difficult. “So with more precision tomorrow with wedges I think I’ll be in good shape.”

The top contenders aren’t ready to cede the championship trophy to Jackson just yet. He’s built up a nice cushion over two rounds of outstanding play but with perhaps even tougher conditions on Sunday he’ll need to weather the elements along with everyone else to stay ahead.

“The results are probably less predictable,” Brennan said when asked about Sunday’s final lap, which could be greeted by stronger winds. “You just have to keep your head down and keep playing. You never know when something will happen. It can be for you, it can be for him. You just have to play hard.”

Jackson has slept on leads going into the final rounds in recent memory. He noted in his post-round interview after Saturday’s game that he’d won some of those and lost some as well.

He will have a game plan ready for Sunday, Jackson added. It started with a little practice before emerging from the cold late Saturday afternoon. He planned to relax and watch sports on Saturday night while resting for Sunday’s goal.

“Hopefully something good is going on,” Jackson said, before saying he’d probably be watching basketball or maybe the Olympics. He watched the NHL All-Stars skill competition on Friday night.

Others who will be chasing Jackson are Alabama’s Thomas Ponder, Clegg Ford, who plays at Mississippi State, and Tobias Jonsson, who plays at Mercer University, a private college in Georgia about three hours from the coast. All three players were 2-unders for two rounds.

Three other players were 1-under after two days. They include Maxwell Moldovan, one of the most senior players on the field, Oklahoma’s Logan McAllister and Duke’s Kelly Chinn.

Jones Cup notebook

South Bend Connections: Jackson isn’t the only player on the field playing his collegiate golf at Notre Dame, Indiana. Davis Chatfield also plays for the Fighting Irish and is in the top 20 in two rounds. He is 2-over (74-72) going into the final 18 on Sunday and is one of four players to finish 20th share on the leaderboard.

Alabama vs Georgia: Both schools are well represented at this weekend’s tournament, with several players from each school competing in the Ocean Forest. Thomas Ponder of Alabama leads both teams’ golfers with lowest scores after two days. He is 2-under and tied for fourth overall.

Ponder donned a Crimson Tide knit hat over his head during Saturday’s round, while many fans, including locals, watching the action came out in Georgia red and black. Of course, the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs played for the college football national championship last month, with Georgia winning to capture its first national crown since the Herschel Walker-led Dawgs in 1980, 41 years earlier.

Alabama gave Georgia its only loss of the season as the tide rolled past the Bulldogs in the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Ponder was asked about the Bama-Georgia rivalry on Saturday.

“I can only say that we are 1-1 this year. We need a tiebreak,” he said.

Tobacco Road Roundball: One of Saturday’s best watching opportunities in the sports world was the first of two meetings this year between North Carolina and Duke as the two ACC powers renewed their annual rivalry on the hardwood. The bitter rivals were scheduled to play at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN, but Blue Devils golfers Kelly Chinn and Jimmy Zeng were still hitting balls on the practice course after 5 p.m

They knew they had to break up soon.

“I’m going to curl up by a nice heater and watch it on a nice big screen,” Zeng said of the Duke-Carolina matchup.

Zeng said he knows some of the Duke players personally.

The North Carolina men’s golf team has no one playing in the Jones Cup. The Tar Heels compete in this week’s Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii.

Caddy Hut: Several caddies who work regularly at Sea Island team up with top amateur players for the three days at Ocean Forest.

Robert Tatro is on the bag of Garrett Rank, one of the top mid-amateurs on the field, while Mike Williamson is teamed with another top mid-amateur, Stewart Hagestad.

Garret Barber, a former Jones Cup champion, has used local caddy Justin Nelson in the last several tournaments.

Brent Keller pulled the bag from Harris Barth, last year’s Georgia Amateur Champion, Chip Dolan carries Ford Clegg’s bag this week, while William “Taco” Headley rejoins the standout Canon Claycomb from Alabama, who has bagged Headley in several tournaments elsewhere . also. Trey Parker, a longtime resident of Golden Isles, is on the bag for Nick Maccario, a former player at Saint Anselm.

Alan Thrower, Caddymaster at Ocean Forest, made the bag assignments.

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