The new year got off to a great start for a pair of Upstate college golfers at the CGA Young Amateur Championship played at Pinewild Country Club in Pinehurst
Anna Morgan and Garrett Cooper won the women’s and mens division titles respectively and both wins were very close.
Morgan, from Spartanburg, needed a playoff to secure the victory over Sophia Burnett, one of her Furman teammates.
Garrett, from Chesnee, rolled in a birdie on his final hole allowing the Coastal Carolina golfer to hold off Austin Duncan from North Greenville University for the men’s championship.
Morgan held a 1-shot lead over Burnett going into the final round.
Her opening round of 3-under 69 was produced with birdies on three of the four par-5 holes as the Lady Paladin’s length off the tee gave her the first round lead.
“My driver is my favorite club and I was hitting it well,” said Morgan. “I was able to reach three of the par 5s in two and it gave me an advantage,” she said.
Morgan started her final round with another birdie on the par-5 hole, but a double bogey on her next hole kept her lead at a single shot for the rest of the front nine.
The 2020 CGA Women’s Amateur champion held the lead until the 14th hole when Burnett carded a birdie to pull even with Morgan.
“When I realized we were tied I was a little nervous. I’ve been able to put myself in this position a few times before and I have decent experience doing that. I knew I had to focus on what I was doing,” she said.
Late in the round it was Morgan’s reliance on her driver that put her back in front of Burnett.
The normal line on the par 4, 340 yard dogleg 16th hole was to play it safe with an iron off the tee. Instead, Morgan aimed about 50 yards off the normal line, cut the corner and flew the trees with her driver.
“I had never played the course before the practice round and some friends told me how to play the hole, but I wondered what would happen if I tried a different line. It worked in practice and I took the same super aggressive line both days,” she said.
Morgan’s second shot gave her birdie opportunities in each round. She missed the birdie putt in the first round, but drained it in the second round to retake the lead.
Burnett came right back with a birdie on the next hole to once again tie Morgan for the lead.
Both golfers parred the final hole to set up a return to the first hole to start the playoff.
It was the second time Morgan would face another Lady Paladin golfer in a playoff for an important championship.
Morgan topped future Lady Paladin golfer Savannah Hylton for the WSCGA Amateur title in a 2-hole playoff last June.
“I had a good vibe about playing the hole again after birdieing it in the morning and I was able to birdie it again,” Morgan said.
Burnett had a birdie putt to tie, but missed the chance to force a second playoff hole.
After a pair of wins in the summer, making match play at the US Women’s Am and a couple of top finishes in college tournaments before the season was cancelled, Morgan sees the win as a continuation of the momentum she built as a college freshman.
“I’m looking forward to getting the college season started. Getting a win in a field like this is only going to help my confidence when we start playing in February,” concluded Morgan.
In the men’s tournament Cooper trailed Francis Marion golfer Grant Sellers by 3-shots and two other golfers starting the final round.
The Chanticleer sophomore would play the second round in the final group with the leaders after an eagle on his last hole moved him up on the leaderboard.
“I played pretty good in the first round and when I made that 12 footer for the eagle I really felt like I would be in it the next day,” he said.
In the second round Sellers 3-shot lead disappeared when he made three bogeys on the front nine.
Gamecock sophomore Nick Mayfield trailed Sellers by 2-shots, but he also made three bogeys on the front to fall back.
While Cooper played a steady front nine and shaved one shot off par by the turn, a pair of North Greenville University golfers joined him to battle for the title on the back nine.
Evan Lewis made 2-birdies on the front nine to go to 5-under par and take the lead at the turn.
His college teammate Duncan got to 4-under par at the turn to tie Cooper.
“I knew it was close, but I just wanted to play my game and not worry about the score. I was hitting fairways and greens and playing pretty solid,” said Cooper.
Lewis enlarged his lead to 2-shots with a birdie on the 11th hole, but Cooper cut it to one with a birdie on the 13th hole.
Lewis ran into trouble with a pair of bogeys late in the round to lose his lead. The bogeys dropped Lewis a shot behind Cooper and into a tie with Duncan.
The championship would come down to a putting contest on the final hole between Cooper and Duncan.
“I hit it to the right so I wasn’t really in position to make birdie, but I hit a good shot up into the green,. I saw Austin had a good look at eagle so I knew I had to make my birdie putt,” said Cooper.
Duncan missed his 8-foot eagle putt and had to settle for a birdie and second place.
Cooper made his pressure packed 5-footer to claim his first big tournament win.
“Even after the last putt, I wasn’t sure who won. I didn’t know until my dad gave me a big hug and told me,” he said.
Cooper did not play in a tournament at Coastal Carolina during his Covid-19 shortened first season. In fact, he has not played much tournament golf before teeing it up in the Young Amateur tournament.
“Being in the winner’s circle feels really good,” said Cooper. “I have had a lot of second place finishes in CGA events, but this is my first win. It is especially great to come into 2021 and the season with a win,” he said.
This was the 12th Carolinas Golf Association’s Young Amateur championship. The tournament is limited to high school graduates under the age of 25.
Complete scores for both men and women’s Young Amateur https://www.golfgenius.com/pages/2785589
The CGA Media contributed to this report.