In two years at East Carolina, Tim Conover has never come close to winning a college event. Apparently, it takes the magic of Pinehurst and a match-play format to bring out a new level in his game.
Conover, who owns just one top-10 in 21 college events, won the 116th North & South Amateur on Friday at Pinehurst No. 2, defeating Andrew Whalen 4 and 2 in the final to take home the title. It capped off a grueling three days in which the East Carolina junior had to win five matches to get the job done.
But after 88 holes in that span, Conover could finally breath a sigh of relief and claim his crown.
“This means the world to me,” Conover said. “It’s really just amazing to think about.”
Conover went about ensuring early that the match wouldn’t be in doubt. He won the first two holes against Whalen with pars and then tacked on birdies at Nos. 4 and 5 to surge 4 up already. Whalen, a Northwestern senior, got one back when Conover three-putted the 7th, but he never got closer than 3 up. Dormie with three to play, Conover knocked his approach shot on the 513-yard par-4 16th to 6 feet to essentially end the match.
“I played awesome,” Conover said. “I was almost flawless.”
But in a championship previously won by Jack Nicklaus, Francis Ouimet, Curtis Strange and Davis Love III, it didn’t come easy for Conover. Yes, the final went smoothly, but the Pirate had to survive a 7-for-5 playoff in stroke-play qualifying just to make the 32-player match-play portion.
He beat Kentucky’s Tyler McDaniel 2 and 1 in his first match but then needed 21 holes to outlast Nick Hardy, a two-time U.S. Open participant and a rising star at Illinois, in the Round of 16. Conover went the full 18 in a 2-up win over Benjamin Shipp, a North Carolina State signee, in the quarterfinals before recording back-to-back 4-and-2 victories over William Register and Whalen.
“It was a week of really close calls, but somehow, I was really resilient,” Conover said.
That resilience ended in the title.
And the hard path to get it done is a nice boost for a player who looks likely to top his career-best solo eighth in a college event when he returns to school in the fall.
“Now I know I can really beat anyone, and win anything,” Conover said. “This is such a tough test, a lot of good players…and Pinehurst No. 2. I won that battle.”
– Information from Pinehurst.com was used in this report