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Carlson impresses with sportsmanship on ninth-hole flap

Tony Paul
The Detroit News


Bloomfield Township — Let's face it. Nick Carlson was good for TV this week at the U.S. Amateur.

Nick Carlson was commended for his sportsmanship after allowing a putt by his semifinal opponent Curtis Luck to stand on the ninth hole.

With his fist-pumping and his occasional sprinting, like after the chip-in for birdie at the 14th Friday — "(Jim) Harbaugh ought to think about using him in the backfield," was the quip on Fox — Carlson was the media darling at Oakland Hills Country Club, being from Michigan and a current Wolverine.

He also provided plenty of drama, especially on the eighth and ninth holes Saturday during his semifinal.

On the par-4 eighth hole, Carlson marked his short putt for par, and then the ball moved. He brought over a USGA official, who determined the marker was in the right spot so there would be no violation. Carlson won that hole to go 2-up in his match with Australian Curtis Luck, who double-bogeyed.

Then, at the par-3 ninth hole, things got tense, even if just for a few moments.

Luck was 20 feet behind the hole, and lagged it up to about 14 inches.

Carlson said, "Good putt," as in, "Well done." Not a concession. Luck picked up the ball before Carlson had officially conceded, causing a bit of a murmur throughout the gallery.

Again, a USGA official was called over, Carlson explained the situation, while Luck looked in absolute shock while talking to his caddie, his dad.

Technically, Carlson could've enforced the hard-fast rules and taken a 3-up lead to the back nine. But he also had the right to give Luck the putt after the fact, which he did, to the applause of the gallery.

"I never said it was good. My intent was — that's what we talked about with the rules official. I'm not going to make him putt a 4-inch putt. Luckily with the way the match-play rules were, I was able to give him that putt and it wouldn't cost him the hole. He would do the same for me, I'm sure.

"I'm not the kind of guy that will say, 'Screw you'-type deal.

"He deserved to have that putt, so I gave it to him."

Before he putted, Carlson shouted over to Luck, "That's on me, Curtis."

Carlson then missed his 5-footer for birdie, the hole was squared and he was 2-up after the turn.

Things between competitors with different personalities could've turned tense, or even nasty, after that momentary exchange.

That didn't happen in this match.

Two holes later, Carlson and Luck were walking side by side down the 11th fairway, talking about their backgrounds and swing coaches, and even joking and smiling.

All's well that ends well.

"He knew after that what kind of person I was," said Carlson, "and that's what mattered to me."

Luck rallied on the back nine to win the semifinal in 21 holes, three more than regulation.

Carlson misses out on automatic U.S. Open and Masters exemptions for 2017, but as a semifinalist, he is automatically into the next two U.S. Amateur tournaments, both set for California.

Luck plays Oklahoma's Brad Dalke in Sunday's 36-hole championship match.

Parental guidance

Lori and Steve Carlson walked nearly every hole with their son this week.

But, oddly, they rarely were ever seen walking together.

So, what gives?

"I don't like listening to him jabber," Lori Carlson, the more reserved of the two, said with a laugh, walking down the 14th fairway Saturday.

"Every other time we're together, but not at golf tournaments."

Steve Carlson is the extrovert of the two, shaking hands with everyone all week, and even buddying up to on-course Fox reporters Curtis Strange and Scott McCarron.

Nick's younger brother, Zach, a good golfer in his own right, was on the course Saturday, and also walked by himself. He admitted on the back nine, he was nervous. Dad sure was, too.

But mom? She took it all in stride.

"Today's the most calm I've been all week," she said.

Even with a spot in the Masters on the line Saturday?

"He's gonna make me spend my money!" Lori Carlson said, chuckling. "I've got a grandbaby on the way."

Shout out to Oakland Hills

Nick Carlson was the Cinderella story, to be sure.

But Jonah Texeira was a close second.

The Southern California golfer got into the field of 312 as an alternate, and played his way into the semifinals, before losing to Oklahoma's Brad Dalke, 3-and-2, on Saturday.

When it was over, he seemed more impressed with the staff at Oakland Hills than anything he did this week.

"The staff, Oakland Hills Country Club, USGA, all the volunteers, my mom was telling me that the president of the club was planning this event for five years, I guess. And I can't explain how great everyone did for their job," Texeira said. "There was not like one thing you guys needed to work on.

"Wherever I was, there was always someone there asking me if I needed something, and they took care of me on the range.

"Literally, this is definitely the greatest tournament that I've ever played in my whole life for sure."

Augusta weighing heavy

Carlson admitted he couldn't help thinking about the Masters.

"Are you kidding me?" he said with a grin. "Since the announcement on the first tee that you get an exemption into the U.S. Open and I knew Masters came with it, how can you not think about Augusta and those rolling fairways every time you're walking up every fairway?

"I'm sure Curtis thought of it, too. I mean, it would have been incredible.

"That's why I get to play again next year and the following year."

Divots

The USGA, no surprise, is getting crankier as the week goes on, at least in terms of hole difficulty. They moved the tees back on the par-4 sixth hole, to nearly 400 yards Saturday.

Carlson had driven greenside or on the green most of the week, as it played about 300 yards.

He had to lay up for a change Saturday, and it led to a par, halving the hole with Luck.

... The start time of Sunday's 36-hole final was pushed back a half-hour, to 9 a.m. The second 18 is expected to start around 2.

... Carlson was a two-time state champion in high school, as a freshman and senior. He was a state runner-up as a sophomore and a junior.

... Carlson began his round Saturday with a Red Bull. By the third hole, he balanced things with an apple.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

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