HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Sometimes making bogey and falling behind by a shot can be a blessing in disguise. Joe Jaspers found that out en route to capturing his fourth Golfweek Amateur Tour Championship title Sunday at the Robert Cupp Course.
Having made bogey on the par-5 15th hole to fall one shot back of Jim Aughtry and Jody Clary, Jasper would get to watch matters unfold ahead of him before having to hit his tee shot amid the swirling winds of the 153-yard, par-3 16th.
“It’s generally a stock 8-iron or 9-iron for the guys out here, but it was hard to judge the wind,” Jasper said. “It almost seemed like it was playing downwind.”
Jasper witnessed Aughtry float his approach shot up in the wind that pushed it short of the green and into the water. Convinced then that 8-iron was the correct club, Jasper proceeded to coolly rest his approach shot onto the green where he would two-putt for an otherwise routine par.
With Aughtry putting a second shot into the water and shooting himself out of contention with an 8, Clary would miss the green and make bogey to set up the final drama with Jaspers. On the 17th, Clary’s poor drive would lead to double bogey and ultimately a par-par finish by Jaspers would give him a two-shot victory.
Jaspers finished the 54-hole event in 67-70-75—212 while Clary claimed sole possession of second place at 73-68-73—214.
Jaspers’ birdie-free final round was also mistake-free enough to earn the win on a day when any score was possible.
“There are a lot of holes on the Cupp course where one bad tee shot can lead to a double or triple (bogey) in a heartbeat,” said Jaspers, who carried an admittedly tenuous three-shot lead into the final round. “I told somebody yesterday that I don’t care what your lead is going into this course we’re playing, nothing’s safe. I could have a 3-shot lead, I could have a 6-shot lead and two bad swings with the driver and it’s all tied up.”
The victory marked the official domination of the Golfweek Amateur Tour by Jaspers, whose four titles are two more than the next-closest competitor. Getting to this point has been a journey of an early self-awakening followed by a later dedication to the game.
An accomplished collegiate player at the Division-III level, Jaspers realized then that a career in professional golf was likely not in the offing even for a player of his skill. For that enlightenment, one Raymond Floyd played a huge part.
“We were at the Division III nationals in ’86 the year Ray Floyd won the U.S. Open at Shinnecock,” said Jaspers, who was playing at the time for Central College in Iowa. “(Floyd) and Jay Sigel were out there, the speakers at a dinner before the tournament started. And (Floyd) came out and gave a clinic and I’ll never forget watching him hit balls out on the range.”
What he saw in Floyd was a picture of golf played at a level that he would be unlikely to attain.
“Just the sound of the ball – it was amazing watching him hit range balls,” Jasper said. “At that point I said ‘I need to study hard because you’re going to have a day job.”
Instead of languishing on professional mini-tours as so many aspiring players do, Jaspers embarked on a life as a solid weekend warrior when the amateur tour circuit beckoned in the late 1990s. With an opportunity to play competitive golf on a regular basis, Jaspers saw his game tighten along with his desire to improve.
“In ’06 or ’07 for the first time I went and took some lessons and broke my swing down. I didn’t like what I saw on video and started to re-tool it and that’s when I started to see my scores come down.”
The work has paid off with four Golfweek Amateur Tour Championships and two trips to the U.S. Mid Amateur. In 2010, Jaspers made the cut and advanced to the round of 32 and in 2013 he made the cut then lost his first-round match.
He’s a long way from Central College now, but with four Golfweek titles under his belt and two U.S. Mid Am appearances to his credit, it seems as though Jaspers made a well-educated decision back then.