Friday, March 25, 2011

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.

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