Fifteen players in the starting U.S. Junior field hail from North Carolina, but only one man calls this week’s host site, the Country Club of North Carolina, his home course. That puts a target on Pinehurst native Jackson Van Paris’s back, if not for his peers then at least for fans – especially local ones.
This marks two weeks out of the last four being the local hero. Over the Fourth of July weekend, Van Paris played his way into the final match at the North & South Amateur at Pinehurst (thanks in large part to a dramatic semifinal victory) before finishing runner-up to Australian Louis Dobbelaar.
Van Paris won the last AJGA Invitational he played in February, the Simplify Boys Championship at Carlton Woods, but this is likely to be the last real hurrah. That story would write itself.
Van Paris hit the first tee shot off the first tee at CCNC’s Dogwood Course on Monday morning to start the championship. He had rounds of 72-70 (the 70 on CCNC’s Cardinal Course) to land the No. 17 seed on the bracket. On Thursday, Van Paris took out another of the Carolina guys – Spencer Turtz – in 15 holes to start match play. Now there are only three remaining.
U.S. Junior: LEADERBOARD
“The course was playing tough,” Van Paris said of a day he made only three birdies. “Neither Spencer nor I played our best. But it was just a grind. It’s one of those matches that neither of us played the way we wanted to, but you’ve just kind of got to grind it out. I got fortunate, I made a few really important putts for par and kind of kept momentum on my side for the most part, which was great, and then ended up making some birdies coming in, which was nice.”
Van Paris noted it was “weird” playing someone from North Carolina. You never want to meet a friend so early in the bracket, he said, but he may keep running into that problem. The 18-year-old has to get past Dutch buzzsaw Benjamin Reuter, who is playing his first USGA championship, in the next round and assuming that good friend Kelly Chinn makes it through another round, too, at the top of the bracket, the two would meet in the Round of 16.
“I mean, if you want to win the event you’ve got to beat them all anyways, so that’s kind of the way I look at it,” van Paris said. “So yeah, I don’t look at it any differently than even if I was playing a bunch of guys I’ve never heard of. I wouldn’t look at it any differently. You’ve just got to go out and try to play your game and play a little better than the guy you’re playing against.”
Van Paris got his edge over Turtz in the Round of 64 when he won three consecutive holes at Nos. 8-10. It was the little things that kept him in the match – like on the par-3 third when Van Paris got up-and-down from a drop zone for bogey and Turtz three-putted from 40 feet. They tied that hole.
“Stuff like that kind of needs to happen if you want to win matches when both guys are playing very well,” he said. “It was by no means a birdie fest out there.
“It’s really nice when you know you’re kind of grinding and you can kind of steal a few.”
Spoken like a guy with a little local knowledge on his side.