DALLAS – Ryan Grider from Lewisville is 18 holes away from capturing the biggest amateur title in his young career. The 20-year-old Baylor University junior on Saturday shot a 3-under-par 69 in blustery conditions during the third round of the 110th Texas Amateur. He extended his lead to two shots over the field on Dallas Athletic Club’s Jack Nicklaus-designed Blue Course.
Grider backed up the stellar 65 he recorded on Friday with another strong performance. Through 54 holes, the 2014 Veritex Bank Byron Nelson Junior champion sits at 11-under 205. Addison’s Chris Wheeler, however, is looming at 9-under 207.
If Grider is able to close it out on Sunday, he’d join the likes of Ben Crenshaw, Charles Coody, Mark Brooks, Scott Verplank and so many other Lone Star State legends as Texas Amateur champions. There’s still a lot of golf to be played, but the significance of a victory was not lost on the highly talented and soft-spoken Grider.
“It would be very special,” he said. “Just the names up on that trophy, it would be a dream come true to be up on there with some of the great golfers in Texas.”
Grider made five birdies in the third round. Perhaps more impressive, he only suffered two bogeys as the field played through high winds that reached 30 mph in the early afternoon. Over and again, Grider saved par with touch and creativity around the greens. On the long par-4 17th, for example, his second shot came to rest on a downhill lie just inside a greenside bunker. He had no stance inside the sand trap; he had to stand outside of it and squat low to address the ball.
Then he splashed it out to 5 feet and drained the putt.
“It was tough,” he said. “I had to rely on my short game all day. I didn’t hit it great off the tee; it was very sporadic. I tried to get up and down from everywhere.”
Wheeler, a 36-year-old mid-amateur, just shook his head. Then he complemented Grider on the par save. A 2005 Tulane graduate and reinstated amateur, Wheeler finished his third round at 2-under 70. He made five birdies and an eagle against three bogeys and a double-bogey.
“It was another grind,” he said. “It was really windy, and the rough was tougher today than earlier in the week. I’m pleased with 70 even though I gave back a few there in the last four holes.”
With rounds of 64-73-70, Wheeler is rightfully proud of his performance so far. He and Grider have a bit of a cushion over the rest of the field. The next closest challengers are Scott Abbott from Dallas and Arlington’s Paul Gonzalez; they’re both at 5-under 211 overall. Abbott, the 2015 Texas Mid-Amateur champion, recorded a 3-under 69 in the third round. Gonzalez, a junior at UT-Arlington, came in with 1-under 71.
Michael Cotton, who won the 106th Texas Amateur in 2015, holds fifth place at 4-under 212.
The Blue Course at DAC is where Nicklaus won the 1963 PGA Championship. He returned in 1986 to renovate the original Ralph Plummer design. The old school parkland course features tree-lined fairways, thoughtful doglegs and water hazards on 12 of the 18 holes. In addition to the challenges the course presents, the severe winds on Saturday tested all 62 players who survived Friday’s 36-hole cut.
It was already whipping at 15-18 mph when the first players teed off at 8 a.m. By the time the leaders teed off at 9:40 a.m., the winds were up in the 20 mph range with gusts of 25 mph. At 2 p.m., when Grider and Wheeler were battling down the stretch, the gusts reached 30 mph.
“It’s guesswork to try and get the right yardage,” Wheeler said of playing in this kind of wind. “Especially out of the rough, anytime you’re doing calculations on roughly 10 yards affected, 15 yards affected (by the wind), it’s just one of those things where you hope you’re right.”
The 110th Texas Amateur’s final round looks to be a two-man race between Grider and Wheeler. Nothing is certain in major championship golf, however, and one of the other skilled players could go low early and post a number that makes the leaders nervous. It all gets started Sunday at 8 a.m. For live scoring, videos and more information, click here