GRANITEVILLE, S.C. — The apprehension was evident early: Twenty minutes before his tee time Saturday at Sage Valley, Cody Proveaux swapped his putter for his cellphone.
Walking to the back of the practice putting green, near the cluster of tall pines, he called his father, Charles. He paced for a few minutes while on the phone before finally returning to the range, where he smacked a few drivers to conclude his warmup. When asked later about the late call, Proveaux grumbled: “Swing thoughts.”
Just a day earlier, the 18-year-old Clemson signee, who had gone months without seriously contending as he underwent swing changes, fired his lowest round (66) since September to take a two-shot lead heading into the weekend at the Junior Invitational. But now, on the range, he had no clue where his ball was going. And it didn’t get any better.
Proveaux couldn’t find a consistent action on the course either, playing the first five holes in 3 over par. By the time he walked off the second green, he had handed over the lead to Zachary Olsen, an Oklahoma State commit who was searching for his first national victory.
“I was so frustrated on the range this morning,” said Proveaux, who tumbled to a 77 Saturday to fall seven shots behind. “I couldn’t hit it like yesterday. I worked on my drills and all that I know how to do, and I couldn’t find it.”
Olsen, meanwhile, built off his opening 68 by birdieing three of his first five holes. On the reachable, 303-yard fifth hole, he belted a drive down the middle, the ball nestling within 5 feet of the cup. (He missed the eagle try, but still made birdie.) After a second consecutive 68, Olsen will take a three-shot lead over Wyndham Clark (70) and Robby Shelton (68) into the final day.
“I’m looking forward to it,” said Olsen, who sits at 8-under 136. “You hope to be in this position starting the week, and I’m fortunate to have a chance going into tomorrow.”
This is Olsen’s first 36-hole lead in a national event. A winner of multiple state and local titles, Olsen, of Cordova, Tenn., is No. 17 in the Golfweek/Sagarin Junior Rankings. His previous best finish nationally? A T-4 at the Bubba Conlee last July.
“Obviously, this is a little different atmosphere and competition,” the 17-year-old said, smiling.
Each of the three players in the final group will be vying for a signature victory.
Clark long has been a threat at national events, recording four top-8 finishes in AJGA invitationals last year, but the Oklahoma State signee has yet to break through at an elite junior tournament. “I feel like tomorrow is going to be a great day,” he said.
Shelton, meanwhile, is a blossoming talent — and prolific state winner — from Wilmer, Ala. Fervent junior-golf followers surely will remember Shelton as the peach-fuzzed kid who defeated, in succession, Jordan Spieth and Anthony Paolucci at the 2010 U.S. Junior. “I’ve matured a lot since then,” Shelton said. “Last year I was shooting mid-70s every time out. Now, I’m almost always under par.”
One of the many questions remaining: Will another under-par round Sunday be good enough to steal the title?