Huge Carlson gallery at U.S. Amateur shows its class

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Township — There’s a fan favorite.

And then there’s everybody else.

Nick Carlson is the golden boy right about now at the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club, drawing the biggest galleries — galleries that are only going to swell as he continues to advance, as he did with two more wins Thursday.

But the maize-and-blue crowds, pulling hard for the Michigan sophomore-to-be who’s from West Michigan, are respectful, too.

In his 19-hole victories Thursday, first over England’s Scott Gregory and then over the University of California’s KK Limbhasut, the fans, mostly in Carlson’s corner, were plenty respectful to his opponents, too.

They cheered their good shots and their hole victories, and never applauded any of their misses.

“I have a huge gallery, but they’re nice to everyone,” Carlson said. “That’s the best part.

“That’s what we pride ourselves in. That’s how our fans are.”

Carlson also did his part, occasionally — and politely — telling fans to stand still while his opponents were preparing to hit their shots.

About 200 fans followed Carlson in the Thursday morning match, and it was close to double that by the time his afternoon match wrapped up.

Those crowds only figure to grow, especially as more and more friends from Hamilton make the drive across the state.

Long versus short

Carlson is a really long hitter.

He’s been consistently past every one of his match-play opponents off the tee. Limbhasut, a bomber in his own right, only once hit a driver past Carlson’s, and that was on the first playoff hole, and just by inches.

Amazingly, though, Michigan coach Chris Whitten said Carlson probably is only the fifth-longest hitter on the Wolverines roster.

By comparison, Carlson figures to be consistently well past his Friday opponent, Illinois’ Dylan Meyer, the reigning Western Amateur champion who relies on fairways, greens and his short game.

“I mean, I don’t really pay attention to anyone’s length,” Meyer said after his afternoon, 19-hole victory over Florida’s Sam Horsfield. “I know what I do. I know they’re going to fly my golf ball with their 2-iron, so it doesn’t matter to me.

“Just keep on hitting it down the center of the fairway and keep on hitting 5-irons, 4-irons to 20 feet, and a guy is going to get frustrated.

“I know I would if someone was hitting it shorter than me. It’s just a mental thing.”

Tough watching

More nervous watching or playing? That’s easy, said Tom Swanson, a Michigan senior-to-be.

“It was stressful,” said Swanson, who followed both of Carlson’s matches Thursday, after he missed the cut in stroke play earlier in the week.

Carlson was especially stressed on the par-3 17th, when, after Limbhasut, 1-up, hit his tee shot long and left, Carlson followed by short-siding himself in the bunker to the right of the green.

“I missed the cut by eight shots this week,” Swanson said, laughing. “So it’s easy to sit there and say, ‘Why would you hit it there?’ ”

Both players made bogey, to send the match to the 18th hole.

For the record, Swanson said Wednesday’s round and Thursday’s morning round were the best he’s ever seen Carlson play.

Carlson shot 4-under 31 on the front nine Thursday morning, and actually got it to 5 under at one point.

“The best I’ve seen him play, by far,” Swanson said. “I’ve seen him play six-hole stretches that are good, but nothing like 36 straight holes that are pretty flawless.”

Cap not for sale

Twitter was dying to know.

Where did Carlson get that sweet lid he’s been sporting all week?

It’s a white-and-blue hat with the state of Michigan in maize, with a block M serving as the marker for Ann Arbor.

“You know, I got it from the baseball team. They are not for sale,” said Carlson, who roomed with a baseball player his freshman year. “I have gotten a lot of questions about it, but they are not for sale.”

Stat of the day

The par-5 second hole has been an absolute blessing for Carlson this week. Through four rounds, he’s 6-under on the hole — with two eagles and two birdies. He nearly made a third eagle Thursday morning.