Luke Clanton's magical U.S. Junior run ends as Cohen Trolio, Nicholas Dunlap advance to final

Luke Clanton was the breakout star of the week at the U.S. Junior, but Cohen Trolio and Nicholas Dunlap will play for the title.

Luke Clanton's magical U.S. Junior run ends as Cohen Trolio, Nicholas Dunlap advance to final

At USGA amateur championships, there’s always the realization that good things must come to an end. On Friday afternoon at the Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst, North Carolina, Luke Clanton met his end short of a trophy but with a big bag of wins regardless.

Clanton, the 17-year-old from Miami Lakes, Florida, tore through the match-play bracket mid-week and downed three top players to score a semifinal pairing opposite Cohen Trolio, himself a semifinalist from the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst in 2019. Trolio proved to be the buzzsaw that Clanton couldn’t get past.

“It just didn’t go my way today,” said Clanton, who at No. 33 had the highest seed of any semifinalist. “I can’t really say anything else. I just didn’t perform nearly good enough. Congrats to Cohen; Cohen played really well. I hope he pulls through and wins the championship match. He deserves it, as good as he played today.”

Scores: U.S. Junior Amateur

Clanton, who has committed to Florida State, birdied the first hole but found the tables turning when Trolio, who will play for LSU, birdied Nos. 3 and 5. Trolio extended his lead by winning Nos. 7-9 then 11 and 12. The match was over by No. 14.

Still, for Clanton, head-to-head victories over top-seeded Kelly Chinn, CCNC member Jackson Van Paris and two-time Alabama State Amateur champion Gordon Sargent made him arguably the breakout star of the week on a bracket loaded with talent.

“It was an awesome learning experience, but it’s a tough one to really handle,” Clanton said. “I really wanted to win this one.”

Luke Clanton reacts to a missed putt on hole seven during the quarterfinals at the 2021 U.S. Junior at The Country Club of North in Village of Pinehurst, N.C. on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Chris Keane/USGA)

As for Trolio, the 18-year-old seems to find his flow in Pinehurst. His breakout performance came two years ago at the U.S. Amateur. He played the Southern Amateur at Old Waverly Country Club in West Point, Mississippi, where his dad V.J. is the head of instruction, last weekend before immediately hopping a plane to play this event, which started Monday.

“Yeah, I’ve been playing super solid golf for the last couple months. This week just kind of hit the flow. I finished fourth round at the Southern, kind of literally hopped on a plane, flew here, played a practice round on Dogwood the next day. It was just kind of the same flow.”

Junior golf is a small world, and it’s not often a player catches a man on the other side of the bracket with whom he’s unfamiliar. Trolio admitted to knowing both Luke Potter and Nicholas Dunlap – the other two semifinalists – and will ultimately meet Dunlap in Saturday’s 36-hole final after the Huntsville, Alabama, native dispatched Potter, of Encintas, California, by a 3-and-2 margin.

Potter had the upper hand for much of the front nine, with Dunlap 2 down entering the back nine. But Dunlap fought back and ultimately closed out Potter when he birdied Nos. 14 and 15 then won No. 16 with a par.

“It’s unreal,” Dunlap said of his spot in Saturday’s final. “I’ve played the last six or seven weeks on the road, and I want to win everything I play in, obviously, but I’ve been trying to get my game ready for this week and for the next week for the U.S. Am. To be able to do it, it feels great.”

The winner of Saturday’s final will earn, among other things, an exemption into the 2022 U.S. Open.

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Senior British Open: Darren Clarke halfway home to rare Open double

Darren Clarke aims to become just the fourth player to win both the British and Senior British.

Senior British Open: Darren Clarke halfway home to rare Open double

At 52, Darren Clarke has enough mileage on his career to know that the work is only halfway done if he’s to hoist a trophy on Sunday at the Senior British Open. A 67 on Friday at Sunningdale Golf Club (Old) in Berkshire, England, propelled the Northern Irishman and 2011 British Open champion to 8-under 132 at the midway point of the championship and a one-stroke lead over Germany’s Bernhard Langer and American Jerry Kelly.

“Just made good swings all the way coming in and kept giving myself opportunities,” he said. “Pleased that I finished on 8-under because the wind was swirling about a little bit.”

Clarke, who finished T-10 at his first Senior Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St. Annes two years ago, is making sure he doesn’t get ahead of himself in his quest to become just the fourth player to win both the British Open and Senior British Open.

“We’re all long enough in the tooth to know this is only two rounds and a lot of golf to be played yet. I would love to have this trophy sitting behind the Claret Jug. Got to go work on some iron play, my iron play wasn’t there especially around the front nine today but other than that drove the ball well,” he said. “Really (would like to be) in the mix come Sunday afternoon and would love to improve.”

Clarke has company from a couple Hall of Fame stalwarts as well as the leader in the season-long Charles Schwab Cup. Kelly, who won the American Family Insurance Championship and has finished outside the top-8 finishers once in his last eight starts, eagled the first hole on Friday and made four birdies en route to shooting 66.

“The putter was suspect and I kept on trying to do something, do something, and then finally the last four holes, I kept my head down, which you know I’m not known for,” Kelly said.

It worked and it was good enough to tie Langer, who continues to defy his age and contend for senior majors, for second at 7-under 133. The 63-year-old Langer already has collected a record 11 senior majors, and shows no signs of slowing down. He shot 67 on Friday, and said he’d be ready for rain and more wind on the weekend.

“Just plug along. It’s going to be miserable at times when it’s rainy and windy and all that but hey we’ve been there before,” he said. “Just try and make the best of it.”

Langer has done that and then some at the British Senior. In 12 previous starts, Langer has 11 top 10s, four wins and three runner-up finishes.

South African Ernie Els is tied for fourth at 6-under 134 with England’s Paul Broadhurst. While this is Els’ first Senior Open Championship, he always has thrived at playing links golf, winning the Open in 2002 at Muirfield and again in 2012 at Royal Lytham and St. Annes. He also has three runner-up finishes at the British and 11 total top 10s.

“It was a little bit more difficult today, a little trickier,” he said. “I feel like what I’m working on is kind of coming through a little bit. But Darren is a great frontrunner, played really well today, so got a lot of work to do.”

Els could also join elite company – with Gary Player, Bob Charles and Tom Watson – as the only players to win both the British and Senior British Opens. Asked when he starts thinking about winning a tournament, Els answered, “Hopefully on the last putt. I’m just trying to stay in it. I haven’t quite got my old game there, so I’m really fighting hard to stay in it. Darren seems like he’s striking it nice. I’m trying to stay in touch with him. Stay there until Sunday afternoon and then whatever happens, hopefully Sunday I can think about that but not right now.”

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