Two college golfers drive nine hours for first U.S. Amateur, one playing the other looping
PINEHURST, N.C. — U.S. Amateur week often sees caddies of various backgrounds loop for their players.
This week at Pinehurst is no different.
Whether it’s a local caddie, father, college coach, college buddy, or someone else entirely, there are many different caddies during amateur golf’s big week.
According to Pinehurst assistant caddiemaster Tracey McIver, 48 local caddies were utilized for Round 1 on Monday.
For Sam Murphy, a junior at Louisiana Tech who made his first U.S. Amateur in three tries this summer, he’s going with one of his best friends, Sam Jeffcoat, on his bag.
Jeffcoat and Murphy play together often either in Jeffcoat’s home of Birmingham, Alabama where he’s a red-shirt sophomore for UAB, or during summers in Decatur, Alabama, where Murphy lives.
The two friends made the 9-hour drive (560 miles) together in Murphy’s truck from Decatur last Thursday morning — stopped in Hickory, North Carolina for the night — then arrived at Pinehurst on Friday.
Jeffcoat also tried to qualify for the U.S. Amateur this year, but did not get through.
For the 20-year-old, he’s still enjoying being on the grounds and seeing Pinehurst for the first time this week. Is looping for his good buddy any consolation for missing out on qualifying himself?
“Absolutely,” Jeffcoat smiled as he walked No. 2 for the first time Sunday afternoon. “I feel like I’m part of the event, so it’s pretty cool, hopefully we can make a run at it.”
Murphy won last year’s Alabama State Match Play Championship in dominating fashion 6 and 5 in the final, and according to Jeffcoat’s memory, none of his other matches got past the 15th hole.
Murphy will understandably not be defending his title this week because of the U.S. Amateur.
After Monday’s first round of stroke-play (today is the second before the rest of the week is matchplay with the top 64) Murphy stood at 3 over and eight shots off the lead.
They will be on No. 2 Tuesday as the last tee time at 2:56 p.m. off the 11th tee. Players tee off of 11 instead of 10 this week because it helps the championships’ planning for player shuttles on both courses.
Murphy had played Pinehurst No. 6 and 8 in other competitions, but his Sunday practice round on the famed No. 2 course was his first.
Keeping sentimental thoughts out of mind will be key, he says.
“I think the more you think about how hard the course is and the history of the course, the harder it will be to play well,” the 20-year-old Murphy said.
“It’s awesome though, it’s one of those courses where you have to be in the fairway to have a chance to take on these greens. It’s pretty straightforward.”
Murphy was in the fairway Sunday on 16 and hit it to inside 10 feet.
Hitting shots like that will be key Tuesday, but you’d have to imagine it will be a challenge for Jeffcoat and Murphy to navigate a demanding No. 2 course with very little knowledge on it save for only one practice round 48 hours ago.
“This course seems to be right in front of you, and that’s the way we like it,” Jeffcoat said. “I think for us, neither of us do well as players on the course when we think a lot, we like to just keep it simple, see the hole, and play it as it is.”
As far as green-reading, Jeffcoat sees that as one of his best strengths so he is giving Murphy as much assistance as he can.
“Both of us are good green-readers and so I’ll look at each putt and give it my opinion, and he listens to it and then goes up to it and does what he’s comfortable with,” Jeffcoat said. “When he’s comfortable he’s going to make a better stroke.”
The two buddies also played a practice round with last year’s British Amateur champ, Jovan Rebula, who is also Ernie Els’ nephew.
“You would never have known he’s a guy who played in the Masters this year and so many other big events, he’s just so down to earth,” Jeffcoat said. “This whole experience has been amazing.”