Stars shine in first round of Jones Cup Invitational

Jan. 7—A pair of University of North Carolina golfers sat 1-2 atop a loaded field when the opening round of the Jones Cup Invitational came to an end Friday.

David Ford shot a 5-under 67 to take sole possession of first place after 18 holes, while Tar Heel teammate Peter Fountain finished one stroke back in second — two shots ahead of a two-way tie for third at 2 under.

Sixteen of the top 50 players in the World Golf Amateur Rankings, nine members of the Haskins Award preseason watchlist, and two golfers pegged to play in the 2023 Masters teed off at Ocean Forest Golf Club on a beautiful day in January — a welcome change from the usual chill of February.

With the course set to undergo renovation next month, the Jones Cup was moved up on the calendar, which turned out to be better for everyone involved.

"Schools are not in; a lot of people either haven't gone back to work, or are getting ready to go back to work, we kind of just took a chance," said Ocean Forest director of golf John Wade. "Historically, the weather is pretty good the first week in January in the Golden Isles. We kind of rolled the dice, and we just hit the jackpot.

"We're getting a lot of positive feedback from the players and coaches that this date is great for them because they are not in school. They can focus on their game; get themselves ready for the upcoming season."

The Tar Heels have to be excited about their upcoming slate after seeing all three of their golfers place within the top 12 through the first of three rounds.

Along with Ford — the eighth-ranked amateur and a Haskin Award preseason watchlist member — and Fountain, the fifth-ranked Austin Greaser, who is also on the watchlist, shot an even-par 72 to close the round in a tie for 12th.

In a tie for third at 2-under 70 were Ben Carr, a Georgia Southern golfer who earned an invitation to the Masters as the runner-up at the 2022 U.S. Amateur, and Jackson Koivun, a high school senior committed to Auburn.

Koivun is one of seven high schoolers in the 84-player field, as is Frederica Academy sophomore Jackson Byrd, who is one of the youngest players in the loaded field.

"It's fun being young and kind of get to be the underdog, which is kind of nice because you don't have a lot of expectations," said Byrd, who is tied for 23rd at 1-over 73. "I'm just trying to learn from these older guys, and just try to take it as experience for later down the line.

"But it's a lot of fun playing in a great field."

As a matter of fact, Wade believes the field is the strongest in the 19-year history of the Jones Cup, which began in 2001 as a precursor to the bi-annual Walker Cup.

Now, the event is one of the most prestigious in amateur golf, drawing a flock of spectators and more than 150 volunteers fired up to see the next generation of the sport.

"There is just such a buzz," Wade said. "We have three tour vans here. Taylor Made, Callaway and Titlest all brought their tour vans, which I've been told the only time you'll see all three of them together at an amateur event is going to be at the U.S. Amateur. So that's a kudos to the Jones Cup. It feels like a tour event, quite frankly."

Those in the know agreed, including Byrd, who is the son of PGA Tour pro Johnathan Byrd.

"It kind of does," Byrd said. "That was the first thing when I came in here, obviously my dad plays golf so I kind of know what it is like, and it looks just like a PGA Tour event with the tents and the tour trucks. It's a lot of fun."

The second round of the Jones Cup is set to tee off Saturday at 9 a.m., and the final round will be held Sunday. The winner will earn an exemption into the 2023 RSM Classic.