Although David Ford started Sunday’s final round of the Junior PLAYERS championship with six birdies in his first 12 holes, the high school senior said the catalyst for his two-stroke victory came with a testy 10-foot par putt at No. 8.
“The save at 8 was the key,” Ford said after closing with a tournament-best 6-under-par 66 at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course. “I had a little chip. I hadn’t chipped one in all week and I forced it a little and ran it by. I had a 10-foot downhill putt, but I made it right in the center.”
Ford lives in Peachtree Corners, Georgia, an area north of Atlanta. He’s already committed to playing college golf at North Carolina. The Tar Heels will be getting a player who’s ranked third in the Rolex Amateur Golf Association rankings, and player who’s won four times this year, including his last two AJGA starts.
None, however, were bigger than winning on one of golf’s grandest stages.
“It’s been hard to get everything in with the pandemic,” Ford said. “I really tried to just take it one shot at a time. I don’t feel like I made a lot of putts. It happens that way sometimes.”
Ford opened with an even-par 72 on Friday to trail first-round leader Evan Vo by five shots. A one-over 73 on Saturday left him seven strokes behind 36-hole leader Preston Summerhays, who fired a 4-under 68.
Ford opened Sunday’s final round with birdies at 1, 2, 7, 10, 11 and 12 before stumbling with a bogey at No. 15. But he bounced back with a birdie at the par-5 16th to finish the tournament at 5-under 211.
The heat and pressure of playing on the same course that hosts The PLAYERS was overwhelming for many. With temperatures in the mid-90s, tournament organizers positioned volunteers to stationary spots on Sunday instead of assigning one to walk with each group.
“The most-difficult part was the heat,” Ford said. “You had to drink a lot of water.
“We had a little wind on the last day and that helped me curve the ball. The key was hitting fairways. I’ve been struggling with my driver lately, but I found the fairway here. You have to avoid trouble here.”
Summerhays hit balls in the water at Nos. 16 and 18 to finish with a 5-over 76 for a sixth-place finish.
Scotty Kennon was one of five players to tie for second place. He bogeyed the final hole for a 1-under 71.
Also in at 3-under 213 were Tommy Morrison (73-72-68), AJGA No. 1-ranked player Kelly Chinn (71-71-71) and Karl Vilips (72-69-72).
There were no scoreboards, but players were able to get delayed scoring on their cellphones. Ford focused solely on golf and didn’t pay attention to his position during the final round.
“I didn’t look at the leaderboard the whole way,” he said. “I honestly didn’t expect to see my name on top of the leaderboard when I finished. I didn’t think 5-under would win it.”