Strongest Field?: North and South Gains Added Stature
The North and South Men's Amateur Championship has always held a prestigious place in amateur golf, but this year's event will boast one of the strongest fields in the 108-year history at Pinehurst.
There are reasons for that, of course. For one thing, the North and South is a traditionally coveted title among amateurs, and for another, the U.S. Amateur Championship will be held at the resort Aug. 18-24.
Scheduled for June 29-July 6, the North and South will be staged on Nos. 2 and 4, the same acclaimed courses that will host the national championship.
Many of the top-ranked players in the world are making a special effort to come to Pinehurst for the North and South as a preview of the USGA's biggest amateur prize.
The inaugural North and South Amateur was held at Pinehurst in 1901, and George Dutton took home the trophy. His name tops the list of winners on the plaque in the hallway of Pinehurst Country Club.
Also on that plaque are the names of Walter Travis, Francis Ouimet, George Dunlap Jr., Ed Furgol, Frank Stranahan, Harvie Ward, Billy Joe Patton, Bill Campbell, Richard Chapman, Jack Nicklaus, Dale Morey, Jack Lewis, Joe Inman, Curtis Strange, Gary Hallberg, Hal Sutton, Corey Pavin, Keith Clearwater, Davis Love III, Jack Nicklaus II, David Eger, Kelly Mitchum, Paul Simson, James Driscoll, and defending champion Philip Mollica, of Clemson University.
"This is the strongest men's field that I've seen," said Ehren Link, outgoing director of tournament operations.
"Webb Simpson (a Wake Forest University star from Raleigh), is turning professional and won't be competing. But Kyle Stanley, of Clemson (currently ranked No. 1 by Golfweek) has entered, as has Jamie Lovemark, of the University of Southern California. He won the World Amateur last year and is a big-time player.
"We've struggled with getting some of the West Coast players in the past, but we're diong well in that regard this year, and that translates to the U.S. amateur being here."
Link, who joined Pinehurst in the spring of 2003, will not be on hand to direct the event that he's put so much effort into, however. He resigned, effective this weekend, to accept a job with a public relations firm in Raleigh. He says he is proud of what has been accomplished during his tenure, but thinks the best is yet to come.
"I think we're on our way to regaining the prestige this event once held," he said. "I'd like to have this discussion three years from now and see where we're at. I feel that the North and South is being done the way it should be and is being presented the way it should be.
"I think we do as good a job here as can possibly be done in presenting the championship."
The North and South begins on Sunday, June 29, with 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying for 157 participants on Nos. 2 and 4. The low 63 players will join defending champion Mollica in match play.
The six rounds of head-to-head match play competition culminate with a 36-hole finale July 6.
Mollica, who had to make the 2006 field through local qualifying, shot a 64 on the No. 4 Course and earned medalist honors but lost in the second round of match play.
He returned last year to advance to the finals, where he posted five birdies in the morning round for a 5-up lead against Raymond Sheedy IV, and he closed out the match on the 12th hole with a birdie to win 8 and 6.
Some local players competing include Jack Fields, headed for the University of North Carolina on a golf scholarship, along with Michael McGowan and Kelly Miller, of Southern Pines. David Chung, a Fayetteville resident who will be attending Stanford University in the fall, is also entered.
One of the West Coast entrants to watch is Peter Uihlein, whose father headed the Olympic Committee at one time.
"Uihlein won everything as a junior player," Link said.
Link, a native of Sacramento, Calif., attended the Professional Golf Management Program at New Mexico State and has spent six years at Pinehurst Resort.
His position as director of tournament operations is being assumed by Justin Meyers.
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