After hitting his tee shot on the first hole of his playoff against Kent State’s Corey Conners at the Jones Cup, Austin Connelly picked up his tee and started to hand his driver to his caddie.
“I went to give him the club and he said, ‘What are you doing? That went in the water,’ ” Connelly recalled. “It wasn’t perfect, but I thought it was a decent drive. The ball was down the left side and kicked about 2 inches into the water.”
The bad break ended up costing Connelly the victory as Conners would two-putt from 6 feet on the par-4 first hole to capture the title at Ocean Forest Golf Club.
Despite falling just short, Connelly considers the runner-up finish his most impressive performance to date, and for good reason. After waiting some 45 minutes in the 18th fairway because of a fog delay, Connelly hit his approach shot in the bunker, but got up and down to save par and get into the playoff.
“Ocean Forest is a very difficult golf course,” said Connelly, a 17-year-old from Irving, Texas. “There wasn’t any wind, but it was cold and foggy. . . . My second shot into the 18th green, the whole green was covered in fog.”
Not only did Connelly have to deal with difficult conditions, but he also had to face arguably the toughest field he’s ever seen in competition, one that included players such as Alabama’s Cory Whitsett, Arkansas’ Sebastian Cappelen and Golfweek‘s top-ranked junior Scottie Scheffler.
Not to mention, it was just his second amateur event – he finished T-21 at the 2013 South Beach International Amateur.
“It felt very much like a junior tournament, but on paper it was obviously bigger,” said the SMU commit and No. 5 player in the Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings.
Connelly isn’t the longest player out there, and at 5-foot-8, he’s one of the shortest juniors his age. But those who are surprised by Connelly’s Jones Cup performance need to take notice of Connelly’s recent results:
- Polo Golf Junior Classic, quarterfinals
- Junior Players, T-2
- Junior PGA Championship, T-12
- U.S. Junior Amateur, Round of 64
- Western Junior, T-9
- FootJoy Invitational, T-3
- Thunderbird International Junior, T-2
- Under Armour/Hunter Mahan Championship, won
- Goodman Networks Junior, T-2
- HP Boys Championship, T-12
Connelly’s runner-up at the Jones Cup was his eighth top-10 finish in the past year, as well as his fifth finish of second or better.
“I’m not the longest hitter out there, so I am playing a different game than someone like Cory Whitsett,” Connelly said. “But I keep it in the fairway, hit greens. . . . I do feel like my game stacks up against some of the best players, especially on very difficult golf courses.”
Connelly isn’t sure how many more amateur events he will play in 2014, but he lists the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur as a couple of goals. He will again play most of the top junior events, though, beginning with the CB&I Boys Championship, formerly the HP Boys, which begins Saturday.
And while Connelly isn’t complaining about his slew of top 10s, he would like to close out a few more tournaments moving forward.
“Closing; that’s the biggest thing I need to work on,” Connelly said. “I had a lot of top 3s last year and I only closed out one tournament. I feel like I’m playing at a high level right now, so hopefully that can be improved upon.”