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. 

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