Hall endures wild round at TPC Sawgrass

Gavin Hall at the U.S. Junior Amateur.

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Mary Ellen Hall was unable to see most of her son Gavin’s opening round at the Junior Players Championship, thanks to a faulty GPS system that took her all over northern Florida.

She arrived just in time to see Gavin finish signing his card, and when he walked out of the scoring area at TPC Sawgrass, his face filled her in on everything she missed.

Hall had an adventurous run around the Stadium Course on Friday, his second time through the famous Pete Dye design. After making the turn in even-par 36, Hall made bogey at the par-4 12th, parred the 13th and arrived at No. 14 at 1 over.

He pushed his tee shot into the long fairway bunker on the left side and chunked his second shot. His ball escaped the trap, but found the water. Hitting four, Hall put his next shot on the green and two-putted for double bogey.

At the par-5 16th, which played as the easiest hole on the course in Round 1 (4.66 stroke average), Hall missed the fairway again, his ball landing in the trees to the left.

His next swing clipped a tree on the way down and caused Hall to re-route and miss the ball completely, before slamming his right hand into the tree trunk.

“I just whiffed it,” said Hall, who added after the round that his hand was fine. “So I punched out and two-putted for 6.”

After dropping that shot at 16, Hall showed why he has been one of the hottest players in junior golf this summer. He made his way to the Stadium’s famed 17th, pulled pitching wedge and attacked the back-middle hole location on the island green, nestling his ball inside 2 feet.

Hall kicked in the birdie and moved on to the closing hole, which played as the toughest hole on the course Friday at nearly a stroke over par (4.86).

He put his drive through the fairway, into the trees, and hit a low, drawing 8-iron into the green that stopped 5 feet from the pin.

“From where I was, I had to start it out over the water and bring it back, which was definitely a little scary,” Hall said. “But there was a little wind from left to right, so I knew it would push it back a bit.”

Again, Hall rolled in a birdie, one of only three that were holed at the 18th on the day. After finishing, he and his group entered the scoring room, and the rules official closed the door behind them. As they disappeared into the room, Hall’s mother arrived and stood outside the tournament headquarters to wait with Gavin’s caddie. And wait. And wait.

Finally, Hall, Tanner Kesterson and David Lee emerged, each looking more shocked than the last. The three players had each been assessed a one-stroke penalty for slow play.

At first, Hall was visibly frustrated by the situation, but quickly his beyond-his-years maturity kicked in and he accpeted his fate with the calm demeanor of a seasoned professional.

“You know, I’m not one to whine or cry about that,” said Hall, who was celebrating his 16th birthday, just to make the emotional rollercoaster a bit steeper. “Rules are rules, and I’m fine with it. It’s just a little unfortunate that it happened today.”

The penalty left Hall at 3-over 75, in a tie for 19th place. He trails leader Michael Johnson by seven shots.

While his 16th birthday may turn into a day to forget, Hall’s summer has certainly been one to remember fondly. In July, he torched Egypt Valley Golf Club with a 62 in the second round of stroke-play qualifying at the U.S. Junior Amateur, missing medalist honors by a shot.

Days after he won his U.S. Amateur qualifier in East Aurora, N.Y., Hall finished second at the Porter Cup, one of the premier amateur events of the summer. He finished three shots behind David Chung (this year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up) and tied with Peter Uihlein (this year’s U.S. Amateur champ). All this led to Hall receiving a sponsor exemption into the PGA Tour’s Turning Stone Resort Championship, where he shot 71 in the second round before missing the cut.

“I can’t believe how fast this summer has gone by,” said Hall, who is competing in his final event before heading back to high school in Pittsford, New York. “It’s been so great to be able to compete against those guys and see how they all play the game. I’ve learned so much from every tournament I’ve played in this year.”

This week’s Junior Players Championship will be no exception to that trend.

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