Amazingly, Christian Salzer of Sumter found himself in the same precarious situation he was in about this time a year ago: watching beside the 18th green to see if Jack Parrott of Columbia would chip in to tie him for the lead.
Last summer in the 56th South Carolina Junior Championship at Willow Creek Golf Club in Greer, Parrott chipped in for an eagle to force a playoff and birdied the first hole to stun Salzer and seize the Charlie Rountree Trophy.
In the final round Thursday of the 57th S.C. Junior at The Dunes Golf and Beach Club, Parrott had a 25-foot uphill chip for a par that would have forced another playoff with Salzer.
“I was just laughing coming up to the green, thinking if I chip this in it’s going to be pretty funny,” Parrott said. “I gave it a good run.”
Parrott’s chip rolled a few feet past the right side of the hole, allowing Salzer to exhale and celebrate a one-stroke win in the South Carolina Golf Association’s annual junior championship with an even-par 216.
Salzer, 16 and a rising senior at Wilson Hall, was coming off another tough runner-up finish Sunday in the Jimmy Self at Greenwood Country Club. He was tied for the lead on the final hole with Walker Campbell and hit his second shot out of bounds to lose by a stroke.
“After losing last year, and even last week at the Jimmy Self [Invitational], I lost on the last hole, so it feels good to win,” Salzer said. “Today I played really well. I controlled everything really well and I putted really well at the end, too, so I’m really happy.”
The N.C. State commitment shot a 3-under 69 Thursday on a 6,700-yard course setup to come from a stroke behind Parrott entering the final round.
The S.C. Junior title comes with perks, including entries into the 2015 S.C. Amateur and 2016 Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, which has an elite international field.
The top eight finishers in the 135-player event also qualified for the 40th Georgia-South Carolina Junior Team Matches from July 24-25 at Berkeley Hall Plantation in Bluffton, and Patrick Golden of Murrells Inlet moved into a tie for sixth at 8-over 224 with a 73 Thursday to make that team.
Parrott, a rising 16-year-old junior at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School who has already verbally committed to South Carolina, entered Thursday’s final round in a tie for the lead at 2-over 146 and was in the final threesome, while Salzer was in the penultimate group.
Salzer and Parrott separated themselves from the field and were 4- and 3-under for their final rounds, respectively, and tied for the lead through 15 holes.
Though Salzer began his round with a bogey, he birdied holes 5, 8, 10, 12 and 15 to reach 1 under for the tournament. Parrott, meanwhile, birdied holes 1, 2 and 9 and played bogey-free before costly bogeys on the final two holes.
Salzer scrambled for a bogey on the 16th after finding fairway and greenside bunkers, thinning a shot over the green and into another bunker and holing a 30-foot putt. “That saved the tournament pretty much,” Salzer said.
He saved par on the par-3 17th with a 20-foot putt after having his tee shot partially plug in a bunker face, and made a par on the 18th, where he had about 160 yards to the flag from the right side of the fairway and hit a 7-iron into the wind to about 12 feet and two-putted.
“I had to go under one tree and around the other, then over water, so it was pretty tough,” Salzer said. “I’m happy I pulled it off. There was a little bit of doubt, but I had to take it on. … Coming down the stretch I really played good under pressure so I’m happy.”
Parrott hit his tee shot on the 17th into a bunker, hit a poor bunker shot and needed to hole a 10-footer to save bogey. He chose to lay up on the par-4 18th after his drive hit a tree to the right of the fairway and he was left with nearly 180 yards to the pin, into the wind with trees to navigate and an uphill lie. His wedge approach shot came up short and he had the chip to force a playoff.
“I was pretty confident in my wedge game if I just chipped up there about 75 yards I’d have about 100 yards in and it’s a pretty easy pin,” Parrott said. “Unfortunately I blocked it and it rolled down short.”
Parrott said his ball-striking started to waver down the stretch, when his timing was off because he struggled to commit to his pre-shot routine under the pressure of the moment. He stood over the ball longer than usual and repeatedly looked up from his ball to the target on the final few holes.
“It kind of started falling apart I guess at 14 or 15 because I was pressed for time and my routine [was off],” Parrott said. “I don’t practice my routine often so I was looking a lot and just felt really uncomfortable over the ball the whole day. … I would look a bunch and it would never be the same. It’s tough to play well if you’re doing that because you don’t really have the confidence or trigger to go.”
Parrott was trying to become the first player to successfully defend the Rountree Trophy since Tommy Biershenk Jr. in 1990-91.
“I guess you’re not human if you don’t feel any pressure, and this is probably the biggest tournament I’ll play in all summer,” Parrott said. “But I’m happy with how I played overall.”
Golden, 16, a rising junior at Waccamaw High and the son of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday president Bill Golden, birdied three of his first four holes to reach 3 under for his round and 4 over for the tournament.
He hit a 6-iron to 5 feet on the par-4 first hole, rolled in a 40-foot putt on the par-4 third hole and hit a wedge to 10 feet on the par-5 fourth hole. But he was unable to sustain the run with bogeys on holes 6, 9, 10 and 11 and pars on the final seven holes.
“I thought I was going to go low, then I hit a bad shot and it just led to a few bad mental mistakes,” Golden said. “I was kind of disappointed because I was 3 under through 4 holes, but with this wind I’d take 73 any day.”
In addition to Salzer, Parrott and Golden, the other juniors qualifying for the Georgia-SC matches were Kent Lawrence Jr. and Wil Sheppard of Mount Pleasant, Nick Willis of Cowpens, Logan Sowell of Kershaw and Drayton Stewart of Charleston, who won the boys 13-14 age division with a 224.
“I’ve heard a lot of good things and I know it will open up a lot of things down the road,” Golden said of the Ga.-S.C. matches.
1. Christian Salzer, Sumter 71-76-69–216; 2. Jack Parrott, Columbia 73-73-71–217; 3. Kent Lawrence Jr., Mount Pleasant 79-72-70–221; 4. Nick Willis, Cowpens 73-74-75–222; 5. Logan Sowell, Kershaw 76-73-74–223; T6. Patrick Golden, Murrells Inlet 75-76-73–224; Drayton Stewart, Charleston 75-73-76–224; Wil Sheppard, Mount Pleasant 74-73-77–224. Also: T53. Matthew Greigo, Loris 77-81-80–238; Ethan Vallery, Pawleys Island 78-79-81–238; T58. Cole Jackson, Pawleys Island 80-80-79–239; T60, Trey Salley, Pawleys Island 80-77-83–240; 64, Holden Grigg, Myrtle Beach 83-79-82–244.
1, Christian Salzer, Sumter 71-76-69–216; 2, Jack Parrott, Columbia 73-73-71–217; 3, Kent Lawrence Jr., Mount Pleasant 79-72-70–221; 4, Nick Willis, Cowpens 73-74-75–222; 5, Logan Sowell, Kershaw 76-73-74–223; T6, Patrick Golden, Murrells Inlet 75-76-73–224; Drayton Stewart, Charleston 75-73-76–224; Wil Sheppard, Mount Pleasant 74-73-77–224. Also: T53, Matthew Greigo, Loris 77-81-80–238; Ethan Vallery, Pawleys Island 78-79-81–238; T58, Cole Jackson, Pawleys Island 80-80-79–239; T60, Trey Salley, Pawleys Island 80-77-83–240; 64, Holden Grigg, Myrtle Beach 83-79-82–244.