Once top junior, Van Paris earns college breakthrough in St. Andrews

Once top junior, Van Paris earns college breakthrough in St. Andrews

Jackson Van Paris was a can’t miss junior player. Consistently in the mix in the biggest events, even as a 14-year-old at the 2019 U.S. Amateur, where he won a match to nearly break Bobby Jones’ record as the youngest to do so. Winner of two AJGA invitationals and the prestigious Junior Invitational at Sage Valley in 2020. In same breath as, and often ahead of, contemporaries such as Gordon Sargent, Preston Summerhays and David Ford.

College golf, though, hadn’t come nearly as easy for the Pinehurst, North Carolina, native – that is, until recently.

Now a junior at Vanderbilt, Van Paris notched his first college individual win Tuesday at the St. Andrews Links Collegiate. Van Paris carded just three bogeys over two rounds around St. Andrews’ Jubilee Course, a tough layout made more difficult by cold and windy conditions, and his 9-under total left him three shots clear of runner-up and Vanderbilt teammate Cole Sherwood.

Not bad for a player who had never played U.K. links prior to this trip. His skill set helped him overcome that inexperience and lead the Commodores into Wednesday’s championship match on arguably the greatest links in the world, the Old Course.

“He’s someone that really knows how to keep his ball low to the ground, has an unbelievable short game, and a great imagination,” Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh said. “When we got to St Andrews, I said to my assistant coach, I really like Jackson this week, so I’m just super pumped for him to get the win.”

The Commodores were 23 under as a team in the 6-count-5 format despite the absence of star Gordon Sargent, who wrapped up play in the World Amateur Team Championship on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. They will now face rival North Carolina, 18 under and also without its top guy, David Ford, because of the WATC.

Van Paris draws the speedy Tar Heel senior, Dylan Menante, one of two North Carolina players (Austin Greaser the other) to have previously competed on the Old Course, doing so a couple months ago at the Walker Cup. In the four matches behind Van Paris, Vanderbilt will be represented by college winners. Since the beginning of last fall, six different Commodores have won at least once in college – Sargent, Sherwood, William Moll, Matthew Riedel, Wells Williams and now Van Paris.

On the women's side, Vanderbilt and North Carolina, which boasts individual winner Kayla Smith, will square off for the team title.

Van Paris’ vintage performance is continuation of a resurgent year that saw Van Paris earn five starts for Vanderbilt last spring after getting just four in his previous three semesters combined and then winning the Sunnehanna Amateur among three total top-7s in elite summer amateur events.

“This has been a long time coming,” Van Paris said recently. “My first two years at school were not how I or many people envisioned. I didn’t realize how immature I was coming into school, especially when it came to golf. But there is a standard at Vanderbilt that doesn’t allow for that, and I’ve grown up.”

From better time and course management skills to improved wedge play to more consistent driving, Van Paris has finally put himself in position for him and his saucy short game to shine. Being roommates with Sargent, an NCAA individual champion who recently became the first player to earn his PGA Tour card via the PGA Tour University’s Accelerated program, for three years now has helped push Van Paris as well.

“When you live with the No. 1 amateur in the world, and you see him every day – he does all the things that’d you’d expect – it’s a great reference point,” Van Paris said.

Van Paris, who has climbed from outside the top 150 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking to start this year to No. 37 (and likely higher come next week's update), is on his way to setting the example himself.