U.S. AMATEUR
Van Paris, 14, Shows Flair for Drama in Historic Win August 15, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif. By Dave Shedloski

Jackson Van Paris never trailed in his Round-of-64 victory over Dylan Perry on Wednesday. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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With a spectacular chip-in for birdie on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links Wednesday afternoon, Jackson Van Paris etched his name in golf history next to legendary Bob Jones.

Indeed, what he accomplished was that special.

Van Paris, 14, defeated Dylan Perry of Australia, 1 up, in the first round of match play in the 118th U.S. Amateur Championship. It is believed that Van Paris is the second-youngest competitor to win a match, trailing only Jones, who made his debut in the 1916 championship at Merion. Jones was 14 years, 5 months and 19 days – about six months younger than Van Paris – when he defeated 1906 champion Eben Byers in the first round. Jones went on to reach the quarterfinals before losing to Robert Gardner, and he went on to capture a record nine USGA titles.

Van Paris, who turns 15 on Aug. 23, is the youngest to win a match since the match-play field expanded to 64 players. And he did it in style, perfectly judging his lie from 20 feet away, just off the back-left corner of the green, and catching the right edge of the hole. When his ball settled in the cup, he pumped his right fist in elation.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said the youngster from Pinehurst, N.C., who carried his own bag for 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying and for Wednesday’s match against Perry, 23, the runner-up in the 2017 Amateur Championship, conducted by The R&A. “To win a match and to play well out here is crazy because I know how many great players there have been before me.”

Van Paris next meets Mason Overstreet of Kingfisher, Okla., at 8:10 a.m. PDT Thursday. Overstreet advanced with a 1-up decision over Cameron Sisk of El Cajon, Calif.

Though he never trailed in the match, Van Paris had to weather a difficult stretch on a brilliant sunny and crisp day on the Monterey Peninsula. After winning the 11th and 12th holes, the first with a 10-foot birdie putt and the second with a par, he lost the next two. He bogeyed the 13th after a poor drive, and then he had to concede the par-5 14th when he pushed his 2-iron second shot to the right and found that his ball caromed off a tree and out of bounds.

“Kind of a bad break, but I didn’t deserve much better after that shot,” said Van Paris. “I was not happy there. Gave two back after I got 2 up, and we tied the first 10 holes of the day, so I kind of feel like I didn’t gain much ground.”

He erased all those feelings at Pebble’s iconic par-5 18th hole after he struck a nervous 50-degree wedge from 105 yards a little too boldly. Adding to the pressure, Perry had pitched up to 12 feet just below the hole. After surveying the shot, Van Paris took the flagstick out of the cup and popped it in with his 54-degree wedge. When Perry’s putt veered right, Van Paris could exhale.

“He’s always been special. He’s always had a knack for the moment,” Todd Van Paris, Jackson’s father, said of the youngest of his three children. “I told his mom [Jana], ‘He just needs to do something special here.’ When I saw him take the flagstick out of the hole, I said, ‘OK, here we go. He wants to chip this in.’ And, obviously, that’s what he did. What a way to finish.”

It was suggested that Van Paris, who already has verbally committed to Vanderbilt University – once he graduates high school in 2021 – orchestrated a hole-out that was somewhat reminiscent of the chip-in for birdie Tom Watson executed on the 17th hole to help him win the 1982 U.S. Open here. It didn’t match the degree of difficulty, but there was no denying its importance in the moment.

“Yeah, I don’t want to put myself in the situation of [comparison to] the U.S. Open,” he said with a huge smile. “This is the first round of match play at the U.S. Amateur. But it’s pretty cool to say Tom Watson chipped in at 17, I chipped in on 18, and just all the history out here is incredible.”

Van Paris is now a part of that history. And he goes out again Thursday to try to make more.

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA digital channels.

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