Friday, March 25, 2011

Carpenter Makes Memories, Not Cut at Bay Hill

Alex Carpenter didn't earn weekend tee times at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, but his play merited something that may be even more memorable: a thumbs up from the King.

A second round 69 for the ACU sophomore from Little Rock, Ark., wasn't enough to offset his opening 82. He wound up +7 for the two rounds, tied for 89th place and 3 shots too many to play the weekend.

But he'll never forget what happened as he made his way up the final hole. With the gallery of fans surrounding the 18th green, one particular figure stood out and stood up.
"I was 195 yards out in the rough, sitting there, as nervous as could be," Alex told me after he finished his round. "But I pulled it together and hit a great shot to about 15 feet. As I was walking up, Arnold Palmer whistled at me, said, 'Atta boy,' and gave me a thumbs up."
Alex said he had spoken with Palmer a couple of times earlier in the week and thanked him for inviting him to play. (The tournament annually invites the winner of the previous summer's Southern Amateur, one of the most prestigious championships in amateur golf. Alex came from behind with a 6-under-par 30 on the back nine in the final round to win last July's event against the best American amateurs.)

Here are some more of Alex's reflections of playing in his first PGA Tour event:

(About Thursday's first round)
"Yesterday I hit it so great. Held it together for 13 holes. Got to 6, which is a tough hole anyways. Had a 30 mph wind in my face and pulled the first tee shot in the water. I'm not one to make the same mistake twice. I'm usually pretty smart about that, but it's easy to do. You lose your balance a little bit. I hit it in the water again. Actually made a great par on my third ball."
"It was five minutes away from being a great round."
"The tee shot at 10 (his first hole of the tournament) was the most nervous I've ever been. But then I hit the flag with my approach. From 160, literally hit the flag. I thought, 'I got this.' Then on 11, perfect drive, hit it to 6 feet. I was in complete control of my golf ball. One or two swings hurt me."

"After I signed the scorecard for 82, I looked at it and couldn't figure out what happened. I played so well."

"I did my best, didn't give up any. With experience, those mistakes will go away."

"After the round, one of the guys I played with, (Tour rookie) William McGirt, told me, 'I'm never going to be able to explain to anyone how well you played because all people look at is the score. But you played great. Just keep doing your thing.' That meant a lot to me."
(About putting that disappointing experience to good use on Friday)
"On the 3rd hole, you want to hit it down the left side. But I blocked it into the rough, which is so penalizing, especially in the morning. So instead of trying to go for the green, I hit a sand wedge out of it, laid it up into the fairway and hit wedge to about 6 feet. I missed the putt, but I walked off with a bogey instead of something worse."

"One thing I learned about the pros is that whenever they put it in a bad spot, they make sure they don't make two mistakes on the same hole. They take their medicine and give themselves a chance to save par."

"On the 6th hole, where I made 9 Thursday, I stepped up and ripped my tee shot into the middle of the fairway. I was glad to be able to come back and do that. I had 250 yards, which is a perfect distance for my hybrid. But there's so much trouble up around the green if you miss. So I laid up with an 8-iron, hit a lob wedge to about 25 feet and made the putt for birdie. You just can't fire at every pin like you do in a college tournament."
(About his overall experience)
"It's Bay Hill and a stage I'm not used to being on, something I don't usually get to experience. But I focused on going through my routines. It was so much fun out there."

"Playing a practice round with Bubba Watson (a multiple tournament winner on Tour and a devout Christian) and Rickie Fowler (a rising Tour star and already at age 22 a U.S. Ryder Cup player) was great. Aaron Baddeley (a winner earlier this year in Los Angeles and also a devout Christian from Australia) came up to me and welcomed me to the tournament and invited me to the Tour Bible study, which I went to. That was awesome."

"It was a really fun week. I didn't want to end up watching it on TV on the weekend. But after today's round, it convinces me I can play with these guys. I mean, Tiger beat me by 1 today, and he said he played great."
And only Alex wet Arnold Palmer's whistle. 

Carpenter: Tough as nails

ACU sophomore Alex Carpenter rallied from an opening 82 (+10) to shoot a 3-under-par 69 in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill.

When he finished, he was tied for 91st place, though his position figures to improve as the afternoon wave of golfers takes to the course. The top 70 players and ties will make the 36-hole cut and play the weekend. If the wind picks up this afternoon, as it did yesterday, +7 has an outside chance to make it to the weekend. (The winds have been calm all morning, and the afternoon forecast currently calls for more of the same.)

I've covered the PGA Tour for the last 15 years, and I can't overemphasize how impressive it is for a 20-year-old kid to shoot 69 after an 82 in his first experience in golf's big league. And this isn't just any PGA Tour event. This is a tournament that this week includes Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els - and, oh by the way, is named for and hosted by one of the sport's greatest players, Arnold Palmer.

Today, Alex birdied the 1st, bogeyed 2 and 3 but rallied with birdies at holes 4-6. Some of his best work was for par. Twice he got up and down from 60+ yards off the green, holing par putts of anywhere from 5 to 15 feet. If you had the chance to see the live coverage on or catch highlights later, take my word for it that a TV or computer monitor doesn't do justice to how hard it is to consistently make putts of that length.

Consider that in 2010, PGA Tour players on average made just 40% of their putts from 10 feet.

In all, Alex needed just 25 putts for today's 18 holes. He had 30 putts in the first round. Here are his total stats for the two days:

Driving accuracy (number of tee shots in the fairway)
57% - 9 of 14, round 1; 7 of 14, round 2

Driving distance (this is measured on only two holes per round and often is not a good indicator of a player's overall length)

Greens in regulation (this means a player hits the green with his tee shot on a par 3, in two shots on a par 4 and in three on a par 5)
50% - 8 of 18, round 1; 10 of 18, round 2

Putts per round
27.5 - 30, round 1; 25, round 2

For the week, Alex made 7 birdies, 6 bogeys, 2 double bogeys and 1 of the dreaded "others" (triple bogey or worse). In fact, that "other" - the quadruple bogey 9 he made on the par-5 6th Thursday - is likely the one hole that will keep him from making the cut.

"I was five minutes away from a great round," Alex said of that disastrous 6th.

Like in any sport, success or failure never fully rests on one play but rather on the entirety of the competition. But consider that Alex birdied that 6th hole today. Yesterday, he hit two balls in the water (which girds the fairway and green on the left side like a right parenthesis) - yes, like that - and afterward admitted he made poor decisions in those few minutes as much or more than he hit bad shots. So he was 4 over par on that one hole and is currently 4 shots off the number that will make the cut.

Again, it's like a baseball team that has a runner picked off first before the batter hits a homerun. Would the pitcher have thrown the same pitch had the runner still been on base? Impossible to answer. But players and fans definitely debate those questions.

I was at Bay Hill earlier in the week working for and had a chance to talk to Alex and others, like Tour superstars Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler, who played practice rounds with him. Fowler told me he encouraged Alex not to worry about playing on the big stage of the PGA Tour and just focus on playing golf the way he knows how.

Regardless of whether or not he makes the cut come day's end, we learned one thing this week at Bay Hill if we didn't know it already: Alex's way is pretty good.

Something to Build On

ACU sophomore Alex Carpenter is missing class this week but getting a great education in his chosen field. Carpenter is the first ACU golfer to play in a PGA Tour event while in school, teeing it up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill Club & Lodge in Orlando, Fla.

With winds gusting upwards of 20 mph, Carpenter's first round Thursday started with a bang off the flagstick at the par-4 10th hole. He went on to make par there and at both 11 and 12. He sandwiched a par at 14 between a pair of bogeys but came back to birdie the par-5 16th to get back to +1, which is where he was after his first career nine holes on the PGA Tour.

A double bogey at 1 (his 10th of the day) dropped Carpenter to +3 but a birdie at the par-5 4th had him at +2 for the tournament and tied for 48th place. But he bogeyed No. 5 (his 14th hole of the day) and made a 9 on the 6th - the same par 5 where former PGA and British Open champion John Daly made an 18 in 1998 - hitting two balls in the water that winds along the entire left side of the fairway and green.

Carpenter followed that up with a double bogey 5 at the 7th and a closing bogey at 9 for a 10-over-par 82. That put him in next-to-last place among the 119 golfers who completed the first round. But 12 other golfers also failed to break 80, including last year's U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell, on a course that's among the most challenging even in calm conditions.

Follow Carpenter's progress in round 2 on here and on my Twitter page here.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Make a Wish

Liam Lowe
Today, Amy Lowe will mark the day she was born by sending both of the children born to her into separate operating rooms: her 3-year-old daughter, Mary, whose bone marrow doctors will harvest; and her 6-year-old boy, Liam, who will reap that harvest.

Liam has spent his last four months in a life-and-death battle with leukemia and the last four days having his little body profusely and purposely poisoned in preparation for today's transplant.

I've lit a candle in my office, closed my eyes and made three wishes: one for Liam, one for Mary and one for Amy and her husband, Matt. And I'm praying that on this day of all days, Amy can have her cake and eat it, too.

Follow the Lowe family on Caring Bridge here.

Friday, March 4, 2011

LSC is rooting for Rex, too

There is a fine story by Nick Eatman on the Lone Conference Conference website about the battle being fought against cancer by Rex Fleming, the spunky, brave 8-year-old son of Lance Fleming, ACU's assistant director of athletics for media relations.

Rex has successfully cleared two big hurdles since being diagnosed late last fall while the Wildcat football team was marching to another Lone Star Conference South Division title. The Flemings were honored this week at the LSC Post-Season Basketball Tournament in Bartlesville, Okla.

Another story worth reading is by Brandon Tripp, sports editor of ACU's student newspaper, The Optimist.

And you can follow Lance’s account of Rex’s past few months at his CaringBridge page.

Rex is pictured here with one of his favorite Texas Rangers, Josh Hamilton, whom he recently met in Fort Worth while being being treated at Cooks Children’s Medical Center.

Lance wouldn’t have posted this, but you need to know anyway. The Flemings are in our prayers and admired by all of us who have been inspired by their faith and confidence in God’s healing.