By MATT HARNESS
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (June 22, 2021) – Garrett Endicott, of San Antonio, Texas, knew where he stood as he lined up a par putt on his last hole.
Through 17 holes at Onwentsia Club on Tuesday, Endicott was bogey-free. He kept his card clean by dribbling in the 10-footer to shoot 5-under 65 and assume the lead after the first round of the 103rd Western Junior Championship.
“It was big,” Endicott said. “When I got over it, I knew I had to make it. But I blocked that out. I hit it super soft, so it was like watching the putt in slow motion. It was a great way to finish.”
Making his Western Junior debut, the 18-year-old Endicott is one stroke clear of Connor Williams, of Escondido, California, another tournament rookie. Playing in the windier morning session, Williams opened his round with a birdie at the par-5 10th and closed with consecutive birdies on Nos. 6-8 to post 66.
“It’s always great to start with an easy birdie,” the 16-year-old Williams said. “The whole day I was hitting it really good with my wedges and low irons and gave myself so many [birdie] putts inside of 15 feet. It was good to see a couple of them drop. I hope that’s the case tomorrow.”
Like Williams, Endicott’s round was relatively free of stress. He started on No. 10 and made five birdies, including three in a row on his second side. It wasn’t until his tee shot on the par-3 ninth trickled into the back bunker that he faced adversity.
“It was a difficult shot, but I splashed it out close to the edge and watched it fly down the hill,” Endicott said. “Other than that, I hit a ton of fairways and greens. My focus the entire day was to give myself easy pars.”
Harris Barth, of Atlanta, Georgia, and Ethan Fang, of Plano, Texas, are tied for third at 3 under. Five players are at 2 under, and six are at 1 under. In all, 15 of the 156 players shot better than par. By contrast, 11 players carded 80 or worse on the par-70, 6,736-yard layout.
“There’s a lot of trouble lurking out there,” Williams said. “It can get away from you fast.”
Endicott and Williams both are verbally committed to play in college. Endicott plans to play at Mississippi State University in the Class of 2026, and Williams is set to join the Class of 2027 at Arizona State University, where U.S. Open champion Jon Rahm went. Williams also is from the San Diego area, less than 30 miles from Torrey Pines Golf Course.
More than 30 colleges were represented Tuesday at Onwentsia, including this year’s NCAA Division I national champ Pepperdine. Among the group of coaches was Chris Williams, who was the 2012 Western Amateur winner and medalist at Exmoor Country Club in Highland Park, Illinois. The 30-year-old Williams was hired in June as an assistant at Auburn University.
“It’s good to be back,” he said. “Life moves fast.”
Defending champion Piercen Hunt, of Hartland, Wisconsin, who won in 2019 at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Illinois, shot 73 and is tied for 54th.
After tomorrow’s 18 holes, the field will be cut to the low 44 and ties. The final 36 holes will be Thursday. The winner will join Collin Morikawa, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk as a Western Junior champion. The top three finishers and ties receive exemptions into the Western Amateur at Glen View Club in Golf, Illinois, in late July.
Attendance and parking for the Western Junior are free.
For the full leaderboard, click here.
For tee times, click here.