AUSTIN, Texas – A humble Chandler Phillips pointed to many intangibles when asked about his success through two rounds of the AJGA’s Under Armour/Jordan Spieth Championship. Phillips insists he always plays well at the University of Texas Golf Club, and always plays well when wearing brightly colored shoelaces.
On Wednesday, Phillips’ were day-glo orange.
Phillips, a 17-year-old from Huntsville, Texas, is the third-ranked boy in the state of Texas, according to Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. He is No. 31 among all juniors. With opening rounds of 67-70 at the par-71 University of Texas track, he is living up to the ranking.
Phillips took the outright lead Wednesday, and will have a two-shot cushion on Samuel Kim at the start of the third and final round. He’d prefer to be chasing, but at the University of Texas Club, magic may happen.
“I like this course,” he said. “I think it’s the greens, because I can read these greens fairly well.”
Phillips hit 15 greens Wednesday after hitting 16 Tuesday. He has been working on his ballstriking with instructor Don Choate, who coaches out of Raven’s Nest Golf Club in Huntsville. Choate also worked with former Texas A&M standout Bronson Burgoon, which is fitting since Phillips will become an Aggie in a year. Phillips and Burgoon, however, have never met.
Phillips calls Choate a second dad, a man who can fix his swing in 10 minutes and someone who speaks the same language he does. Listen to Phillips speak, however, and it’s tough at times to get through the thick Texas accent.
This summer has been a landmark one for his game. Phillips played his first AJGA invitational in June, the FootJoy, and saw how he stacks up with the nation’s best juniors.
“It showed me I was good enough to play in those, but it also showed me I need to work on my game when I back up a 66 with a 76,” said Phillips, who eventually finished T-29.
In July, he played the PGA Junior Championship for the first time (at Miramont Golf Club in Bryan, Texas, near his soon-to-be college town) and finished T-32. His best accomplishment, however, was winning the Byron Nelson Junior Championship on June 26. Phillips shot a second-round 62 to set a tournament record, and would have broken Jordan Spieth’s 54-hole record but for a double-bogey, triple-bogey finish.
“My normal shot is a little baby draw,” Phillips said. “I’m pretty aggressive on the course.”
It explains the wide margin between scores, and it should bode well for the final round.
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Hailee Cooper redeemed herself on the final hole of Wednesday’s round with a birdie. It came after two consecutive bogeys, and went a long way toward putting Cooper in good spirits heading into the scoring tent.
That 15-footer at No. 9, Cooper’s last hole of the day, sealed a second-round 1-under 70. At 4-under 138 for the tournament, Cooper leads Michaela Williams by four shots.
Cooper, of Montgomery, Texas, has won from behind and won by protecting a lead in her short career, but the 14-year-old is especially good at closing. The AJGA awards a Scotty Cameron putter cover to the player at each tournament who posts the lowest final-round score. Cooper has five.
What does one do with such an excessive number of putter covers? Keep them in a cabinet at home, of course. Cooper refused to put one in use until she had a second to back it up. That hardly seems an issue these days.
“The past few tournaments, I’ve tried to finish good,” she said. “I’ve always kind of done that.”
Cooper is at the end of a non-stop summer. She qualified for the U.S. Girls’ Junior at the end of last month, and cashed in one of her only weeks off this summer in order to compete. It’s the kind of opportunity a junior doesn’t pass up, and Cooper advanced to the second round of match play.
“If you’re hitting the ball good, you just don’t stop,” she reasoned.
Since that tournament, Cooper won the AJGA’s Goodman Networks Junior. It was her second AJGA victory, and her third top-two finish in AJGA events this summer.
The next obstacle for Cooper has to do with the mental game. She admits to sometimes getting heated on the course, and it can affect her play. But a birdie to finish after consecutive bogeys? That’s a sure sign of progress.