Albany 18-year-old Jacob Joiner is one of 312 amateurs nationwide who qualified for this month's U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club. (Photo: Glenn Ray)
ALBANY — Jacob Joiner had been on the brink of qualifying for a spot in the U.S. Amateur Championship once before.
The Albany 18-year-old had been close enough to taste it. Close enough to dream of hoisting the Havemeyer Trophy.
After years of trying to qualify for the U.S. Amateur and falling just short, Joiner finally broke through last month in a qualifying tournament at Orlando’s Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and earned one of three spots for next week’s prestigious tournament.
He said his previous attempts to earn a spot — including a qualifier two years ago when he fell apart in the second round after dominating the first — gave him the experience he needed to qualify.
“Without those other tournaments, I don’t think I would have gotten in this year,” Joiner said. “This is something I’ve worked for, for a while. To get in is definitely an honor.”
Joiner, a rising freshman at Georgia Tech, is one of 312 amateurs nationwide who will play in the U.S. Amateur at the Atlanta Athletic Club from Aug. 11-17. He needed a birdie on his final hole in the qualifier in Orlando to earn a three-way tie for first and clinch a coveted spot that around 80 players were competing for.
“I knew it was coming down to the last hole,” Joiner said, referring to the 18th hole, a 550-yard par five. “I was coming into the last hole thinking I needed a birdie to get in. I had (double bogeyed) 16, which put a loop into it. But I made an eight-foot par putt on 17 that was a real confidence booster.”
After a deep drive down the fairway on 18, Joiner hit a 3-wood to within 15 feet of the pin and had a tap-in for birdie, sealing his place in the U.S. Amateur.
In the 120 years the U.S. Amateur has existed, players such as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and other greats have conquered the tournament.
Joiner is hoping he can find a way to join that list of winners.
“I definitely think I can win if I play well,” he said. “The goal at first is just to make match play. Once you make match play anything can happen.”
The tournament begins with two days of stroke play with the top 64 players earning a spot in a single-elimination match play tournament.
Joiner said the course, which has hosted three PGA Championships and a U.S. Open, is a good fit for his style of play.
“I really think the course fits my game,” said Joiner, who played a practice round Friday with Georgia Tech teammates and will play two more official practice rounds next week. “You have to work the ball off the tee, and you have to really be precise with your distances.”
Joiner has played in major tournaments before as a youth golfer, but never one as big as the U.S. Amateur, which will be televised live on the Golf Channel and NBC.
“It definitely shows that I am going in the right direction with how I am working and how my game is progressing,” he said. “Just seeing all these players up there and to do well in it would show that everything is paying off.”
Mike Joiner is Jacob’s dad and coach and will caddie for his son throughout the tournament.
“It almost brings tears to my eyes to think that right after the U.S. Amateur, he will be starting college and leaving home,” Mike said. “He and I have shared years of experiences together that were priceless. For him to end this part of his career with me as a caddie at the U.S. Amateur is more than a father could ever ask for.”
Mike watched his son turn into one of the state’s top amateur golfers and said all he wants from Jacob is for him to put 100 percent focus and effort into every shot next week.
“We will leave the rest in the hands of the Lord,” Mike said. “In order to win, he will obviously have to have all aspects of his game working fully and also get a couple of good breaks along the way.”
Jacob’s biggest break might be the comfort that comes along with his dad carrying his bag.
“He almost knows my game better than I do,” Jacob said. “He helps me through basically every shot to get me focused on that shot and not thinking about the last one.”
Jacob’s brother, Tyler, is a first alternate for the U.S. Amateur and is still holding out hope of earning a spot. If not, he will play the same weekend in the IZOD AJGA Championship in North Carolina.