When Cole Dillon won the US Junior Amateur qualifier at Lawrence Country Club in late June, the Dillon family started planning an impromptu vacation.
Departing late last week, the Dillons traveled to Truckee, Calif., to the Martis Camp Club for the US Junior Amateur championship that began today with an 18-hole round of stroke play.
The championship, which Tiger Woods won three times from 1991-93, includes 156 qualifiers from across the country. Dillon will be playing alongside the nation’s best junior golfers, whittled down from among the more than 2,800 entrants into the qualifying tournaments nationwide.
Dillon said this is the first time he has played in a qualifier for this tournament.
“I didn’t really know about it, but my dad told me about it, signed me up and I played for the first time, in Lawrence,” Dillon said.
Dillon shot a two-round score of 147 to win the qualifier at the Lawrence Country Club. Preston Fleenor was the second qualifier from Kansas with a 148, while Washburn Rural’s Andrew Beckler, 6A state champion in 2013, finished as the first alternate with a 149.
“I’ve always been in the middle of the pack, and I played really well that day,” Dillon said. “I put up a good score in the first round and was able to follow up with an even better score in the second round. It was a really good day, but I could have played better, honestly.”
Once qualified, Dillon said there was little doubt he and his family would make the more than 1,200 mile trip to California to participate in the national tournament, despite the obvious cost of undertaking a trip they hadn’t necessarily planned for.
“This is a pretty big tournament, and a big opportunity, obviously, so my dad took it and ran with it,” Dillon said. “It’s kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing. There’s always next year, but there’s no guarantee, so we took the opportunity.
“The first priority is golf, but once it’s over or I get eliminated or whatever, then we’ll probably go out to Lake Tahoe or something. We’re making a vacation out of it.”
Dillon took two practice rounds over the weekend before today’s tournament start. The format is unique, beginning with 36 holes of stroke play over two days to determine the cut. The 156-player field is then cut to 64 players, with those remaining competing in match play rounds until a final champion is crowned on Saturday. All told, the champion would play eight rounds of golf at the Martis Camp Club, including six match-play victories.
Dillon said during one of the rounds of match play, the tournament is picked up by the Golf Channel, giving Dillon the chance at a national audience should he advance.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to think about that I’m playing in the same tournament that Tiger Woods and Hunter Mahan won in the past. You see guys like that out there, it will be pretty cool.
“And the fact that if I play extremely well, I could be on national television.”
The junior-to-be at Manhattan High School said his mindset for a tournament of this caliber is a bit different than the average round here in town.
“My mindset will be a little different, because they’re the best players in the world,” he said. “I want to go out there and have fun, but also make it to match play. I want to have a good time and try to make the cut.”