Albany golfer Joiner wins coveted spot in U.S. Junior Amateur Championship, commits to Georgia Tech

Albany's Jacob Joiner is headed to California in late July to compete for the title every young golfer dreams of: the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

Albany's Jacob Joiner is headed to California in late July to compete for the title every young golfer dreams of: the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship.

ALBANY — Now that it’s over, Jacob Joiner can look back and laugh.

But in the moment — that one terrifying, heart-pounding moment — Joiner thought he’d committed one of the few cardinal sins a golfer can make during his round that could’ve have cost him a chance at what ended up being “the biggest accomplishment” of his rising career thus far.

Let’s let him explain.

“Well, I shot a 69 in the first round Monday (in the qualifying tournament for the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship) and I signed for a 70,” the 17-year-old Albany native sheepishly told The Herald on Thursday. “And I didn’t realize it until I was playing my second round, and I got scared because I’d done this once before (in another tournament when I was 15) and gotten disqualified. But I asked a rules official, and he said that because I signed for a higher score instead of a lower one, I was all good and to keep playing.”

Joiner put the mistake behind him — then left the field in his wake.

He finished 1-under for the two-round qualifier and tied for first place, securing one of only four spots in the dream tournament for every amateur golfer in the country: The U.S. junior Amateur Championship, which begins July 22-27 in Truckee, Calif.

When asked where this ranked in his long list of accomplishments so far in his decorated amateur career, there was little hesitation.

“As of this moment, this is the biggest,” he said.

Joiner, who is home-schooled, also confirmed to The Herald on Thursday he recently committed to Georgia Tech over a host of other Division I offers. And while securing his collegiate future was one of his goals coming into 2013, earning a trip to the U.S. Junior Am was most certainly another.

After all, he’d been trying for five years to make it — and this was his final attempt before becoming a Yellow Jacket.

“This was it. This was my final shot,” he said. “I’ve been one stroke away twice before this year (and was named first-alternate), so I knew it was now or never.”

Possibly joining Jacob in California is his younger brother Tyler, 16, who is arguably just as talented as his big brother. Tyler, who was on his third try at qualifying for the tournament, came within a stroke.

“I finished one shot back of the Top 4, so I’ll be the first-alternate this year,” Tyler lamented Thursday. “But it’s OK, Jacob played really well and I’m happy for him. There’s still a chance I could get in, but if not, I’ve got one more year to try. We’ll see.”

Should a player drop out before the first round in late July, the player who replaces him will be based on scoring average, and Tyler’s is right up there with those that could get first crack if a spot opens up.

Luckily for him, the constantly competing brothers didn’t have any friendly wagers on who finished higher in this particular tournament.

“No, not this time,” Jacob said. “We usually do, but not for this one. We had enough of a rivalry going (just seeing if one of us could qualify).”

Jacob looked poised to do it right off the bat. He opened up with a 2-under 70 — one of the lowest rounds of the entire tournament — and was snugly inside the Top 5 heading to the second round.

But that’s when he ran into trouble.

“The second round started terrible. I was 3-over after my first three holes,” Jacob said. “But I calmed down from there, had birdies on Nos. 6 and 9 and finished with a 1-over 73. I really rallied.”

But has he lost any sleep since the tournament ended, knowing had he signed his scorecard correctly he would’ve won?

“Maybe a little,” he said with a grin. “But as long as you’re in that Top 4, you’re good. So that was the main goal, and I got there.”

Joiner said he chose Georgia Tech — an NCAA semifinalist at nationals this past season — over offers from Florida State, North Florida, Texas A&M and Coastal Carolina, adding he felt playing in Atlanta is where his game could flourish the most.

“It was a hard decision, no doubt. But I’m very happy with my decision,” said Jacob, who plans to earn a business degree — but also plans to give professional golf a shot.

And why not? He’s one of the most sought-after prep prospects in the nation who — if he isn’t already — will be on everyone’s radar if he puts together a strong showing next month in California.

Just one piece of advice while you’re there ...

“I know,” he began with a laugh, “make sure to add up my scorecard correctly.”