Resilient Jackson Van Paris continues climb in junior ranks

Jackson Van Paris reacting to missed birdie putt on the first hole during the round of 64 at the 2018 U.S. Amateur at Pebble Beach Golf Links in Pebble Beach, Calif. on Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018. (Copyright USGA/Chris Keane) USGA/Chris Keane

Resilient Jackson Van Paris continues climb in junior ranks

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Resilient Jackson Van Paris continues climb in junior ranks

Jackson Van Paris had seen his week start horribly.

Three bogeys over his first four holes of stroke-play qualifying at last month’s U.S. Amateur had him contemplating whether he’d break 80 for the opening round. If that spiral did manifest, his chances of making match play (top 64 after 36 holes) would pretty much vanish.

So Van Paris flipped his mindset.

“I was thinking, ‘I’ve got nothing to lose at this point,’ “ Van Paris said.

That freedom translated to his play. Van Paris wouldn’t make another bogey the rest of the round, adding on two birdies to escape with an opening 1-over 72 at Pebble Beach. His following 2-over 74 at Spyglass Hill gave him a T-46 finish, earning him a spot in match play.

The then 14-year-old would chip in for birdie on the final hole of his Round of 64 match with Dylan Perry to secure a clutch 1-up victory, making him the youngest competitor to win a match at the U.S. Amateur since a teenager named Bobby Jones reached the quarterfinals in 1916.

Van Paris saw his week conclude in the Round of 32, as he fell to Arkansas’ Mason Overstreet 3 and 2. His run didn’t surprise him, but Van Paris did note heading into the tournament he heard well-meaning comments about enjoying the experience.

Translation: It’ll be a short week, but you’ll have a good time.

He was more than happy to produce plenty more.

“It was nice to go into a tournament where I was kind of seen as the underdog and I could just show everyone who I was,” Van Paris said.

His skills have been on display for some time. Paris, now 15, committed to Vanderbilt this year and is Golfweek’s No. 3 in the Class of 2021. Eight years ago he captured the Boys 6 & Under division at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship, and his success hasn’t stopped.

Van Paris grew up in Illinois, but the family moved to Pinehurst, N.C., in 2015 because it had grown to love the area from the U.S. Kids visits and had built friendships there as well (the golfing benefits were a bonus).

Van Paris earned his first AJGA Invitational win last year and was a Rolex Junior All-American, and his game has been evolving. He estimates he’s grown 6-7 inches in the last year – he now measures at roughly 6-foot-2. That’s helped him gain about 30 yards off the tee, putting him in the 270-yard range.

At last year’s Southern Amateur, Van Paris first thought he could compete at the amateur level. He Monday qualified for the event and tied for 46th. But as matters change, Van Paris is focused on maintaining his core strengths – specifically short game.

Gordon Sargent, a friend and fellow 2021 Vanderbilt commit, also points to the value of Van Paris’ willingness to fight for his score.

Van Paris’ father, Todd, knows his son never quits. It was a 4-year-old Jackson who was chipping around a practice green one day at Conway Farms Golf Club in rain and temperatures near freezing when dad told him it was time to go. The child refused to leave until he chipped in to every hole on the green.

“I let him finish up, he wanted to be there,” Todd said.

Jackson never has to look too far for perspective. A family friend who survived prostate cancer kept a guardian angel coin in his pocket every day during treatment. He gave the teenager his own guardian angel coin, and Van Paris has used it as a ball marker for more than a year.

Sometimes, when he puts the coin down on the green, he finds inspiration.

“I think of how the guardian angel wouldn’t let anything happen that wouldn’t benefit me in the long run,” Van Paris said. “Everything happens for a reason.” Gwk

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