'Nobody' Carlson makes Final Four at U.S. Amateur

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Nick Carlson reacts to his pitch shot on the second hole during quarterfinal round of match play at the 2016 U.S. Amateur Friday at Oakland Hills Country Club.

Bloomfield Township –- Nick Carlson came to the 10th tee Friday in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills Country Club fighting to find something, anything to spark his game.

The University of Michigan golfer was 2-down Friday to Illinois’ Dylan Meyer, the 35th-ranked amateur golfer in the world, and just as each player was about to grab their driver, the horn sounded.

Storms were rolling in and the players were called off the course. Hardly a drop of rain fell over the next 44 minutes, but it proved to be the most crucial 44 minutes Carlson has experienced all week -– maybe in his young golf career.

He’d been having a problem with his hip flexor and worked to stretch that out during the break, but more importantly, it was a chance to decompress. The pressure of large galleries and a surprising run in one of the biggest golf events in the world was starting to mount.

So Carlson, 19 and about to enter his sophomore year at Michigan, took off his shoes and just relaxed.

By the time he and Meyer got back to the 10th tee, the spark was back. Taking advantage of some early mistakes from Meyer, Carlson won three straight holes -- Nos. 10, 11 and 12 –- to take a 1-up lead and swing the momentum of the match.

A miraculous chip-in for birdie on No. 14 followed by another birdie at No. 15 were the final crucial swings as Carlson closed out Meyer 3-and-1 to advance to Saturday’s semifinals. He’ll take on Australian Curtis Luck, a 2-up winner over Sahith Theegala, at 8 a.m. Fox will have tape-delayed coverage later in the day.

“I don't know what happened to me,” Carlson said. “I was still playing. My caddie and I were just sticking to my game plan. You know, that's what we went out on the 10th tee and did. I hit a great drive. Didn't hit a great second shot but Dylan was in trouble. So I did what I needed to do to put pressure on him.

“From there on, I kept sticking to my game plan. Unfortunately Dylan kept making mistakes and couldn't recover from them. So I was able to do what I needed to do.”

He certainly did that on the first three holes on the back nine, but when Meyer responded with a birdie at No. 13, it squared the match.

At No. 14, Meyer, the 21-year-old reigning Western Amateur champion, was in the fairway and Carlson was in the rough, some 200 yards away. Meyer hit first and rolled off the back of the green as Carlson contemplated a nasty lie. His shot came out low and rolled over the green, coming to rest off the back of the green, as well.

As Carlson got to his ball, he knew he was in good shape.

“I drew an amazing lie. It was perfect,” Carlson said. “Probably the best one I've had all week.”

Carlson pulled his 9-iron from the bag knowing he couldn’t flop the ball and keep it close to the hole.

His plan was to hit it low, into a side hill, and let it slowly roll toward the hole.

Carlson's desired Michigan hat not for sale

He never thought about making it, not until it fell to the bottom of the cup. Carlson sprinted toward the green pumping his fist, the large crowd roaring.

“I hit the leaf I was trying to hit and took another hop and just kind of trickled right on down,” Carlson said.

It’s what match play golf is all about and it was a momentum swing Meyer could not answer.

“I told my caddie, you expect him to make the shot,” Meyer said. “And what do you know, he makes the shot.”

Carlson followed with a huge drive on No. 15 and knocked his short approach to about 5 feet.

Meyer, meanwhile, three-putted and conceded the hole as they went to No. 16 with Carlson 2-up. Meyer showed some fight, two-putting from nearly 50 feet while Carlson lipped out his birdie putt, but another three-putt from Meyer at 17 ended the match.

Carlson, from the small town of Hamilton in West Michigan, has now beaten the Nos. 3-, 35- and 43-ranked players in the world amateur rankings in his last three matches. He happens to be ranked No. 1,981st.

Luck is ranked No. 7 in the world.

And if Carson wins on Saturday and reaches Sunday’s 36-hole championship match, he will earn exemptions into the 2017 Masters and U.S. Open. As it is, he's already earned exemptions into the next two U.S. Amateurs.

It’s all more than Carlson expected. His main goal was to reach match play. After that, there were no expectations.

“I referenced 'Tin Cup' a couple times, just because he's a nobody,” Carlson said. “I'm kind of a nobody. I'm 1,981 in the world, as my little card would say. But you know, I'm playing well this week. It's been done before.

"I'm just playing golf, having fun. Love the golf course.”