JOHNSTOWN, Pa. — Last Sunday, University of Georgia golfer Trent Phillips helped the United States reclaim the Arnold Palmer Cup team event in Illinois.
Just six days later, Phillips got to raise another piece of hardware in celebration, this time for an individual victory, at the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur.
Phillips (-9) won the 68th edition of the event at Sunnehanna Country Club by one stroke on Saturday, with Duke’s Ian Siebers (-8) and Texas’ Travis Vick (-7) rounding out the top three. Phillips became the second Georgia Bulldog to win the event, after Paul Claxton emerged victorious in 1991.
The South Carolinian put together strong performance after strong performance this week — the only player in the field to post red numbers on all four days. Just two other players, Vick and sixth-place finisher Jacob Bridgeman, shot par 70 or better in each round.
But Phillips also stood out beyond his performance on the scorecard. On Sunday, he was the only player in the final threesome that didn’t use a caddie. Instead, Phillips carried his American-flag emblazoned Arnold Palmer Cup bag himself all week.
“I would’ve probably had a caddie if I wasn’t playing really good golf,” he said. “Sometimes I can kind of overthink with a caddie. It’s nothing against anyone, but having the right guy on the bag sometimes is really important for me. I like to overtalk.”
Whatever reasoning went behind the choice for extra labor, it worked. Phillips played yet another round of golf without making any combustible mistakes, looking in complete control as he hit all 13 fairways on Saturday en route to a 2-under 68.
Despite his excellent ball-striking, Phillips dug himself a small hole early in the round.
The greens had softened significantly after rain showers the night before, and he seemed to have played a few approach shots expecting more bounce. Phillips three-putted twice on the front nine, but he attributed that more to the positions he found himself in than his putting ability.
“I just put myself in the wrong spots,” he said. “It really wasn’t comfortability on the greens, it was just the greens were softer so they were plugging and stopping in high areas where they usually release to the low points so it just made it a lot harder. Once I adjusted, I was fine.”
Saturday initially looked primed for a showdown between Phillps and his friend Karl Vilips, a Stanford golfer who sat one shot back going into the final round.
Vilips played himself out of contention early on, though, with a short three-putt for double bogey on the fourth hole sucking the air out of his day. With Vilips falling behind, Phillips’ primary competition came two groups ahead in Siebers.
The Duke Blue Devil quickly pieced together an immaculate round, birdieing four of the first five holes after entering Saturday four shots behind the lead. Siebers said he realized his position in the leaderboard around the tenth, when he had actually taken a temporary solo lead. He finished the day with a 5-under 65.
“I got some putts to drop early, and I think that really fueled me the rest of the day,” he said. “I’m glad to be able to play well, even though I came up just short.”
Speaking of fuel, Phillips shouted out the woman running the concession stand between the ninth and 10th holes for the role she played in his victory. She served what the course called an ‘ugly dog,’ a combination of turkey and beef, which became a daily mid-round lunch for the eventual champion.
“She made at least 20 for me this week,” Phillips recalled. “Every turn, I had two at least. I wish I could go see her and tell her I won, I think that would make her day. But yeah, we had a good time, I always talked to her.”
The dogs must have given him quite the boost on Saturday, because Phillips went on a tear early in the back nine that would win him the tournament.
He got up and down from the bunker for birdie on the par-five 11th, followed that with a birdie on the 12th, and another a few minutes later after nearly driving the green on the 420-yard 13th.
The birdie on 13 got Phillips to 9 under for the tournament, the score he would cling to for the rest of the day. It didn’t come with much stress, either. Phillips hit every green in that final stretch, two-putting his way to victory.
With a one-shot lead, he approached the 18th tee needing par to win. Despite hitting a bomb with the big stick on that hole the previous day, Phillips played it safe and blistered an iron into the middle of the fairway.
He placed his approach safely onto the putting surface, finishing his par in front of a significant crowd that had gathered on the 18th green.
“With a one shot lead, there’s just no point [to hitting driver],” he said. “You can get some funny lies out of the rough, and I didn’t really want any funny business.”
Murrysville native and Notre Dame star Palmer Jackson found himself alongside Phillips and Vilips in Saturday’s final group. Jackson shot even on the front nine, then a double bogey on the par-3 10th hole appeared to knock him out of contention.
But the local fan favorite bounced back gracefully, birdieing the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 16th holes to clinch a top-five spot on the final leaderboard. He said the support from the many friends and family that made the trip to support him contributed to his fiery finish.
“Honestly, they helped me make some birdies coming in,” Jackson said. “I was playing for myself obviously, but I wanted to make sure I made some birdies to keep people interested.”
Despite putting together a strong run in the U.S. Amateur last summer, the location and history of the Sunnehanna Amateur made this performance one of his all-time favorites. His fourth-place finish was his best-ever for a stroke play event.
“It’s the biggest tournament in Pennsylvania every year,” Jackson said. “Sunnehanna is the big one for all of us. To finish top-five, I’m assuming I did, that’s a special week.
“I wish I would’ve played a little better today, but Trent played great. Hats off to him.”