UM's Nick Carlson continues 'Tin Cup' run at U.S. Amateur

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Nick Carlson

Bloomfield Township – Nick Carlson continues to turn Oakland Hills Country Club into the backdrop for his own personal fairytale.

The Michigan sophomore-to-be outlasted England's Scott Gregory, the No. 6-ranked amateur in the world, with a birdie on the first sudden-death hole during his second-round match at the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club on Thursday.

Carlson, 19, watched a three-hole lead slip away over the final eight holes, culminating with a missed 6-footer for par on the 18th that would've won his match.

No matter, they went to play the first hole again, and while Gregory found the rough and trees right, Carlson was just barely in the rough – and he hacked out a wedge to just 10 feet right of the cup. He did his best Sergio Garcia impression from the 1999 PGA Championship, racing after his shot, as the swelling maize-and-blue gallery cheered him on.

Gregory had to chip out to the fairway on the long par 4, but hit a nice wedge to just next to the cup, forcing Carlson to likely have to make his putt to win the match.

And he did just that, capping the grueling match off with his latest fist pump. The gallery, well into the hundreds by day's end, shouted, "Go Blue!"

"I was actually walking onto the eighth tee, thinking, 'Holy cow, if this isn't a 'Tin Cup' story, I don't know what is,'" Carlson, from Hamilton in West Michigan, said following his match, which put him into the Sweet 16, set for later Thursday afternoon.

"Just a hometown hero, just making his way, making a name for myself. I know I can play this good, and I'm proving it."

Is he ever.

Carlson – ranked just inside the top 2,000 amateurs in the world, by the way – continued to bomb the ball off the tee, consistently 40 yards past Gregory, 21, and he continued putting well, especially early in the match, when he built his lead.

He actually shot 3-under 67 for his 18 holes of regulation, matching his opening round of stroke play on the tough South Course.

Carlson also showed off some serious creativity, playing the South Course unlike most who've ever trekked across this landscape.

For instance, on the par-4 seventh, he intentionally aimed to the next fairway over to the right, to avoid the water. He found the rough, and it led to a birdie and his 3-up lead.

He did it again on the 18th, telling the gallery to, "Move way to the right," as he took aim at the 10th fairway – with the pin tucked well left on the nasty 18th green.

Carlson found the rough and hit another good approach, 40 feet right of the flag.

"That's the game plan, and we executed it," Carlson said. "We just didn't execute the putts."

Carlson lagged to about 8 feet, but missed the comebacker for just his second bogey of the day. Gregory – who won the British Amateur this year, and was runner-up in the Spanish Amateur – made a 3-footer for par to win the hole and extend the match to the playoff.

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For the second consecutive match, Carlson never trailed.

He meets KK Limbhasut, a Cal golfer, in the Round of 16 match starting at 1:50 p.m. He figures to get plenty of TV time, with FS1 going live on the air from 3-6 p.m.

Not bad for a kid who's goal coming into the week was just to make match play.

"Now I'm in the Round of 16," Carlson said, with a grin. "I don't know what's going on."

It's the second consecutive year Michigan has had a golfer reach the Round of 16 at the U.S. Amateur, following Kyle Mueller's showing in 2015.

Twitter @tonypaul1984