Duffield pulls huge upset
ASHLAND -- Qualify for the AJGA Natural Resource Partners Bluegrass Invitational? Check.
Finish in the top five? Check.
Finish under par? Check.
Nick Duffield, you missed a box.
Duffield, a junior at Chesapeake High School, fired a 7-under-par 63 to tie the men's course record Friday and overcome a 5-shot deficit and won the Boys Division in the Bluegrass Junior at Bellefonte Country Club. The Bellefonte member finished at 5-under 205 for 54 holes and two shots ahead of runner-up Fred Allen Meyer of Nicholasville, Ky.
"I putted like I did the last two days. I just hit the ball better," Duffield said in summing up his 7-birdie, no-bogey effort in this his first American Junior Golf Association event.
As news of Duffield's charge made its way around the course, the gallery grew. He said he appreciated the support from friends and club members, especially his mother, Tammy, but he blocked them out and stayed focused on the business at hand.
"I tried not to look. Maybe I did sneak one or two. I didn't want to jinx myself," Duffield said. "Having the members coming to watch is very cool. But I told myself I just had to keep playing how I was playing in order to have a chance for the win.
"I felt confident. I play here and know the shots well. I had to execute and I did."
Duffield, who turned 16 on May 27, made birdies on Nos. 2, 3 and 8 on the front to start the climb.
On the back, he recorded birdies on Nos. 11, 13, 14 and the 18th hole to seal the deal and become the third player to shoot 63 in this AJGA event. The other two were Jack Ferguson in 1998 and Cody Gribble in 2006 on his way to victory. Leigh Ann Hardin holds the course record with a 62. She posted that score on her way to a Girls Division victory in the 1997 Bluegrass Junior.
The closest call to bogey for Duffield was on No. 16 when his 8-iron approach from the left rough flew the green and came to rest just short of the trap that guards the left side of the 18th green. He chipped to 4 feet and made the putt.
Duffield, who came into this event way under the radar in terms of notoriety, departed with a championship trophy, PING bag (which goes to the winner), valuable Scotty Cameron Putter Cover award for lowest round on the final day and exemptions into future AJGA events. Prior to this week, Duffield's claims to fame were rounds of 73 in the 2010 Ohio Division II sectional and district play and tying for 21st in the State Tournament on Ohio State's Scarlet Course. He's also spent time playing on the Top Flite Junior Tour.
"I'm hoping to finish under par and top five in my first AJGA and I'm 2 over after two days," he said. "Everything went right today. This could launch me to bigger and better things. The goal is to keep improving."
Duffield said he had many phone calls to make after the round. One was to Chesapeake High golf coach Terry Kimball, who's in Florida on a family vacation. "I've kept him up to date. I'm sure he'll like this news," Duffield said.
Duffield's been a member at Bellefonte for two years. Now that he can drive a car, he gets to the club more often to practice.
"That's what it takes," he said.
During the round, Duffield's mom was pacing the grounds when she wasn't in a golf cart. She got time off from work at Holzer Clinic in Proctorville to witness her son's finest golf moment to date.
"I've shed my tears," Tammy Duffield said while standing by the scoreboard waiting for the awards ceremony. "I'm equally excited and proud of him. He's a good, all-around kid. He sets a lot of goals himself, more than I did when I was 16."
Come Monday, Duffield and his youth group at Fifth Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington will begin a mission trip to Nicaragua. The group will build a house and work with the Open Hearts Ministry in the Managua area.