Fifteen-year-old Nicholas Dunlap of Greer, South Carolina, shot a 3-under 69 to take a two-stroke lead as the field battled tough, gusty conditions at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley Golf Club. First round leader Tom McKibbin from Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland shot a second-round 75 to fall into a three-way tie for second at 5-under.
“With the wind, you couldn’t really attack any pins,” said Dunlap, who shot the lowest round of the day with a 69. “You were playing defense on most holes.”
Dunlap credited his par putt on Hole No. 9 from four feet as the push he needed to run. He went on to birdie 10, 11 and 14.
“That was probably the best 3-under par I’ve ever shot,” Dunlap said. But factor in the wind, he said his round “feels about like an 8-under.”
Dunlap, who is making his first appearance at the Junior Invitational, says a win here would be his biggest by far. Coming into this tournament, his considers his biggest personal victory to be the Alabama Boys State Junior Championship, where he fired a final-round 6-under par. It was his final win notched in Alabama before moving to the Greenville, South Carolina area last year.
Despite a triple bogey at Hole No. 17, McKibbin – who shot a first-round 64 – is just two strokes back from the lead, where he sits tied with Ricky Castillo of Yorba Linda, California, and Australia’s Karl Vilips of Perth, who matched Dunlap’s second-round 69 today.
The three juniors gunning for the lead have impressive resumes. Castillo is appearing in his third and final Junior Invitational following a T3 finish last year. McKibbin is making his second appearance at the Junior Invitational, with wins last year at the Junior Honda Classic and Faldo Major Champions Invitational. Competing in his first Junior Invitational, Vilips is the current Rolex AJGA No. 1 ranked junior boy and four-time Rolex All-American, recently grabbing the individual gold medal at the 2018 Youth Olympics Games in October.
In yesterday’s first round, Vilips aced Hole No. 12, becoming his fourth in competition.
“It was insane,” Vilips said. “To do it out here at Sage Valley is something special. To do it in front of my coach and have it on video, it’s even better.”
Similarly, Vilips echoed his competitors’ feelings about the wind.
“Since hole one, it was brutal,” he said. “Especially around here, the wind swirls around. You need to be precise with your club choices.”
Eligibility for the 54-hole stroke-play Junior Invitational is rigorous, with 17 automatic qualifiers produced from the 2018 Junior Invitational Champion, 2018 Boys Junior PGA Champion, and furthest advancing junior in the 2018 U.S. Amateur, among others. Remaining slots are filled based upon year-to-date rankings. Click here for more information about player eligibility.
Golf fans can follow the competition at JuniorInvitational.com and on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. For locals, there is no charge to attend, and badges can be picked up daily throughout the tournament at the Sage Valley Golf Club entrance.