Whitsett builds Jones Cup lead with unlikely caddie

Cory Whitsett during the Jones Cup.

SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Tony Boselli made a career of protecting quarterbacks as an offensive lineman in the NFL. On Saturday, he helped a friend navigate his way around a course that does a good job of protecting par.

Boselli caddied at the Jones Cup on Saturday for Alabama junior Cory Whitsett, who shot 72 to take a three-shot lead into the prestigious event’s final round.

Whitsett is at 4-under 140 (68-72) after two rounds at Ocean Forest, site of the 2001 Walker Cup. His closest pursuers are two international players in their first season with U.S. colleges: Florida State’s Rowin Caron and Kentucky’s Ben Stow. Caron, of the Netherlands, shared the 18-hole lead with Whitsett, but shot 75 Saturday. Stow, of England, shot Saturday’s low round, a 2-under 70. They’re the only three players under par after two rounds.

Whitsett is trying to become the second consecutive Alabama player to win this event. Justin Thomas earned the title in 2012.

“A lead doesn’t mean much around here,” Whitsett, No. 48 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking, said of his three-shot lead. “It can be gone really fast. It doesn’t mean anything until you sign your scorecard the last day.”

The Whitsett and Boselli families became friendly after Whitsett’s hometown NFL team, the Houston Texans, drafted Boselli in the expansion draft. Boselli now lives in Jacksonville, where he played for the Jaguars. Boselli, a 10 handicap, didn’t read putts or give yardages, but did help Whitsett stay positive on the trying Ocean Forest layout.

“He’s an athlete, so he knows about staying in the present and all that stuff that you know, but is always good to hear,” Whitsett said. “Any time I would hit a bad shot, he’d say that was a good swing. It made me think maybe that shot wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was encouraging.”

Whitsett closed his round with a 5-foot birdie putt at Ocean Forest’s par-3 ninth hole. He made three birdies and three bogeys Saturday. “I just didn’t drive it as well,” Whitsett said. “I chipped really well, which is a really good sign around here.” He estimates he hit only 10 greens Saturday.

Ocean Forest played to a 75.9 scoring average Saturday. The high scores came in spite of some of the best weather for this tournament in recent years. The sun shone all day, and there was little wind. Tougher hole locations made up for easier conditions, though.

Stow transferred to Kentucky from Plymouth University in England. He was ineligible this fall because he hadn’t earned enough credits toward his major, but will be able to play for the Wildcats in the spring season. Stow hasn’t played a tournament since representing England at the Home Internationals – team matches between England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales – in August.

“I was eager to get a card in my hand,” Stow said. “It was certainly good to feel that buzz again. I was pretty nervous, and made some mistakes I normally wouldn’t make.”

Stow was 4 over after eight holes in the first round, but has played his past 28 holes in 5 under. He has made eight birdies and three bogeys in that span. His five birdies Saturday included a two-putt birdie on the 562-yard, par-5 14th after reaching the green in two shots with a 4-iron and a chip-in at the par-4 second hole. He holed a 20-foot bogey putt on No. 8, his 17th hole, after driving into a hazard.

Stow, who finished eighth at last year’s European Amateur, is No. 95 in the R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking and a member of England’s national team. A Jones Cup win would certainly help his Walker Cup candidacy. The same can be said for Whitsett, who was among 16 players invited to a practice session last month.

Boselli joked that he’d caddie for Whitsett again Sunday only if the Jones Cup didn’t conflict with the Super Bowl. He may want to stay for the final round at Ocean Forest; he’s in good position to be part of the winning team.

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