RUMFORD, R.I. – Tall, wet rough. Big tree. Water hazard. Double bogey.
All the ingredients were in place for a sense of disgust, to let the moment get to him. Instead, it turned into the perfect test for Will Murphy’s commitment to maintaining focus and perspective.
Turns out, he thinks he passed the test beautifully, even if the closing double bogey Thursday did leave a sour taste in his mouth. Having played 17 holes in a tidy 3 under in the second round of the 53rd Northeast Amateur at Wannamoisett Country Club, Murphy found trouble at his final hole, the 453-yard, par-4 ninth, which put a dent in his score but did not crush his spirits.
“My goal is to keep a positive attitude,” Murphy said. “It’s not the end of the world.”
Having had by his own estimation “an up-and-down” collegiate career at South Carolina, Murphy doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that things have taken off since he starting working with sports psychologist Milt Lowder. “I hadn’t won a thing,” he said. “But since working with him, it’s been nothing but top-5s.”
Indeed, the kid from Columbia, S.C., has been on a roll. He won the Azalea Classic at the Country Club of Charleston, then he tied for 15th in the NCAA Championships. Last week, the roll continued with a playoff victory at the Sunnehanna Amateur.
“Definitely a breakthrough year,” Murphy said after continuing his solid play with a 1-under 68 to jump up the leaderboard in this premier amateur gathering.
Having opened with a 72 Wednesday, he needed a positive day and he got it – even if it wasn’t quite as good as he had designs on while standing on the ninth tee.
But Murphy, who just completed his junior year, drove it wide right and was in rough behind a big tree. Errant shot, yes, but he concedes he compounded things with a “bad decision.” Trying to “muscle a sand wedge” out of rough, up and over the tree, and cover 125 yards to an elevated green . . . well, it didn’t happen. Murphy’s ball came to rest in a hazard, but he maintained composure.
There’s a lot of golf to be played, two rounds, in fact, and only two of the 88 entrants have been able thus far to get the better of Wannamoisett, a Donald Ross masterpiece. One would be Stewart Jolly, a senior-to-be at LSU who fired his second straight 67 to get halfway home in 4-under 134, leading by three over Hans Reimers (68-69), a recent graduate of Mercer.
“Got off to a really good start and was able to keep it going,” Jolly said. “Just played solid all day.”
The fact that Jolly is here – let alone, leading – earned him warm thank-yous and pats on the back from championship officials. Having been named to the Palmer Cup, which will be staged at the Walton Heath Club outside of London next week, Jolly understandably could have begged off of playing this week, but he shook his head.
“I was invited before I made the team and everyone told me it’s an awesome tournament, that I have to play,” Jolly said. “So I never thought of withdrawing. I wanted to play two weeks before the Palmer Cup, so it’s worked out.”
Two other members of the Palmer Cup – Bryson Dechambeau and Anthony Maccaglia – are here, and the trio will fly out of Boston on Sunday evening.
But until then, there’s the business of figuring out this brilliant Ross design that dates to 1898. Some cream has risen to the top in that quest, because Seth Reeves, his pro career on hold till after the U.S. Amateur, shot 68–138 to settle into a share of third at level-par with Kurt Kitayama; Jordan Niebrugge (71-68) is among four players at 1-over 139; and the five-way tie at 140 includes Auburn’s Michael Johnson (71-69) and reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion Scottie Scheffler (73-67).
“Much easier than yesterday,” Scheffler said, after recording one of nine sub-par rounds Thursday. He certainly had reason to think that, given that Scheffler bogeyed each of his first five holes in Wednesday’s opening round.
Clearly, the teenager from Dallas has settled since that early turbulence, which is no surprise given the way he conducted himself in front of PGA Tour galleries a few weeks ago at the HP Byron Nelson Classic. Though he wasn’t able to accept the check for $62,000 that would have come with his T-22 finish, Scheffler demonstrated that there may just be many more efforts like that in the future.
It also generated the obvious comparisons to another Dallas kid who showed a ton of game as a junior and meshed seamlessly into the PGA Tour world: Jordan Spieth, now 20. “I don’t mind (the comparisons),” said Scheffler, who will turn 18 Saturday. “A pretty good guy to be compared to.”