I know a young lady who has a thing for Denny McCarthy. She is a massive golf fan and has been singing his praises since he first stopped by the Porter Cup, prior to his freshman year at the University of Virginia. “This is his year,” she would tell me, and she came awfully close. In 2012, McCarthy finished two shots behind green-jacket winner Richy Werenski. Last year, McCarthy inched closer to the top spot, finishing a shot back of Geoff Drakeford, tied with Beau Hossler. For the majority of this year’s 57th playing of the storied invitational, McCarthy lingered near the top. Would he finally crack the code and earn a win at his favorite amateur event?
In the first round, another tournament favorite made news with a cracking finish. Scott Harvey of North Carolina, who played under trees when his father competed in this event decades ago, made eagle on the 17th and birdie on the 18th to leap from minus-three to minus-six and the lead. Harvey would occupy a spot near the lead until Friday’s back nine, when the inward half treated him quite unkindly. A string of unfortunate bounces and mis-hits would lead to a plus-six stretch of 41. After a final-round 71, though, Harvey has his best finish at the event (a tie for sixth) and a renewed appreciation for the event. Understand that the 37-year old Kernersville resident competes against college kids half his age and did win the 2014 USGA Mid-Amateur championship, so no slouch is he!
Regional favorite Gavin Hall took over the lead after round two. Great things were predicted for Hall when he tied for second with current European Tour player Peter Uihlein at the 2010 event. A basketball injury derailed Hall for the next few years, but the Pittsford lad came back over recent years to contend for honors. Hall followed up his opening-round 65 with a solid 67 to take a one-stroke lead over the field. Unfortunately for the University of Texas student, his scores would continue to rise (69 then 70) over the final thirty-six holes and he would finish agonizingly close to the playoff, two back of the leaders.
The biggest news that Carter Jenkins had made previously was his ascent to hold the Carolina’s Amateur and North Carolina Amateur titles simultaneously, the first golfer in history to do so. Jenkins transferred from UNC-Greensboro to UNC-Chapel Hill this year, immediately strengthening a Tar Heels golf program. Despite his heralded play in the near south, Jenkins arrived in Lewiston quite under the radar. A tie for 37th in his 2014 tournament debut led no one to believe that he would find himself tied for first with Hall and McCarthy, two players with more appearance and better records. And yet, that’s precisely where Jenkins found himself on Friday evening. The dynamic trio stood together at minus-nine, with Virginia Tech golfer Trevor Cone one back at minus-eight.
Sunday dawned bright, but would finish a bit dreary. A late-round weather delay kept golfers off the course for two hours, ensuring that they would have plenty of time to think about where they stood and how they wanted to finish. Gavin Hall held the lead most of the round, until an unfortunate tee ball on 14 left him in jail just prior to the siren that halted play. Hall would bogey 14 and 15, be unable to birdie any of the closing triumvirate of holes, and find himself alone in third place.
Jenkins and McCarthy were the only two golfers to play all four rounds of the 2015 Porter Cup in the 60s, so it was fitting that they meet in a two-man playoff for the title. How did they get there? That’s a story in itself. Jenkins had play a wretched front nine of 38, with double bogeys on four and seven the chief culprits. Many thought his bags were packed, but Jenkins had different thoughts. The Raleigh native birdied three of the first four holes on the back side to rejoin the chase. After Hall’s slip, McCarthy assumed the lead and stood two strokes clear of his playing partners with two to play. McCarthy did what was expected of any title-holder. He finished with two strong pars to sign for a minus-eleven 269. But that Carter Jenkins!
Most people don’t make thirty-feet birdie putts on the penultimate hole of a tournament, especially when the hole is historically the most intimidating and difficult on the course. Jenkins did. Most golfers don’t have the guts to take something off an iron into a bunker-ringed green on the final hole of a pressure-filled tournament, but that’s what Jenkins did. Rather than muscle an eight-iron into the 18th at Niagara Falls country club, Jenkins knocked down a seven, to eight feet and a shot at glory. He drained the putt, equaling McCarthy at minus-eleven (and probably sending my friend into a state of catatonia!)
The playoff was unfortunately quick and anticlimactic. After both golfers played safe shots to the front of the final green, Jenkins bombed his approach putt ten feet longer than needed. He missed the come-back attempt and settled for a three-putt bogey. McCarthy benefited from putting second. After witnessing Jenkins’ miscue, he lagged to two feet, made the putt for par and raised his hands in triumph. Although a professional career awaits, McCarthy hopes that this triumph caught the eyes of the Walker Cup selection committee, who have a little event of their own planned for September at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, in England. As for Jenkins, he’ll hopefully be back in 2016 to join the fray with Hall and the rest of the field at the 58th annual Porter Cup.
Photos courtesy of Alex Fisher Photo.