USGA reaps rewards of Nick Carlson's amazing run

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Bloomfield Township — As far as prestigious golf events go, the U.S. Amateur is right up there.

Nick Carlson's semifinal run helped drive attendance at the U.S. Amateur. Some 5,800 spectators attended Saturday at Oakland Hills.

It's just typically not a huge ticket-seller, because of the relative anonymity of the field, at least in the days since Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods left college behind.

But Nick Carlson made the USGA a few extra bucks this week, with his spirited — and stunning — run to the semifinals at Oakland Hills Country Club.

Attendance Saturday was 5,800, at least 80 percent of that gallery following Carlson's match with Australian Curtis Luck, who won in 21 holes.

The USGA doesn't keep attendance records year over year, because it doesn't like to compare, given each market is different, and thus it's an apples-and-oranges type of thing.

That said, ask around and it's clear.

The U.S. Amateur hasn't seen a crowd like Saturday in a long, long time. By the time Carlson's match ended, fans were lined up many deep around the green to get a glimpse of the kid from Hamilton and the University of Michigan. It's even more impressive, given the Dream Cruise going on and Tigers-Red Sox series in town.

Carlson got extremely emotional talking about the support he received from the fans, many of whom wore maize and blue. Even fans in Michigan State hats and shirts occasionally would yell, "Go Blue!"

"I was able to stand on that 12th green after Curtis won and just think to myself how amazing it was that they were all there," said Carlson, who then paused for several seconds as he cried during his post-round news conference.

"Someone told me yesterday that their ticket sales were up because of me, and that's pretty incredible to me."

After the match ended on the par-5 12th, Carlson clapped high above his head, applauding the crowd.

He then thanked them all for coming.

During the round, even when it was tense and all-square, he actually would spot friends from his west Michigan hometown of Hamilton in the gallery and run over to them for a fist-bump, handing out individual thank-yous.

Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, like he was much of Friday, walked the course Saturday, too.

Carlson joked Saturday that it was great he could get Manuel out of the office, and away from paperwork. Related that comment Sunday, Manuel let out a hearty laugh.

"True!" Manuel said. "Hey, listen, he certainly did, so yeah, keep getting me out. Keep giving me a reason to get out.

"Love that quote."

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Interestingly, there's actually a very good chance attendance will be down significantly Sunday from Saturday, given the local connection has been eliminated.

Carlson's galleries grew by leaps and bounds throughout his five matches this week, as more and more friends from back home — and just Michigan fans in general — started deciding to take impromptu trips to Oakland Hills, where tickets are $20.

Luck, as all Carlson's match-play opponents have been this week, was mighty impressed with his following — and its courteous behavior, even though it always was clear who was the fan favorite.

"They were sensational. They really were. I applaud them, because they were so good," Carlson said. "Their etiquette was great out there. We didn't have any issues really with people getting in the way. You know, the volunteers did their best, too, to help us out, so I thank them, as well. But they were great.

"They were clapping — good shots they were clapping, regardless of the player. And yeah, as I said, at the end of the day, it's always fun to play in front of a large crowd, and that is exactly what it was.

"They were absolutely awesome."