'I'm sorry I cussed on TV': Emotional Ben Carr remembers late father after semifinal win at U.S. Amateur
PARAMUS, N.J. — Ben Carr couldn't find it. The ball marker he uses for his late father, David, who passed away at the age of 52 in 2019, had gone missing. He looked for it everywhere on the first tee. Both pockets. His golf bag. Nothing
"I thought it was in my pocket because I put it in my pocket when I was warming up," Carr said. "I could have sworn I put it in my pocket when I was warming up."
That would create an uneasy feeling if Carr was about to play nine with his buddies back home in Columbus, Ga., let alone the opening hole of a semifinal match at the U.S. Amateur after a nearly two-hour rain delay. Understandably, the fifth-year senior at Georgia Southern hit a toe hook at Ridgewood Country Club's opening par 4. The nerves, plus the potential loss of something very dear to his heart, had gotten to him.
Somehow, Carr gutted out a par, then another at the par-3 second to keep his match against Pepperdine's Derek Hitchner tied after two holes. A double-bogey 7 at the par-5 third was another shock to the system, but not nearly as much as it would have been in stroke play. In match play, it just means you're 1 down, and Carr was able to instantly tie the match by holing a long birdie putt at the par-4 fourth.
A back-and-forth duel ensued from there, Carr finally taking control with a win at the par-3 11th and emphatic wins at the par-5 13th and par-4 14th. At 13, Carr nearly holed a wedge shot for eagle, leading to a concession from Hitchner. At 14, after Hitchner blasted his third from a greenside bunker to about 10 feet, leaving him with a makeable putt for par. Carr proceeded to pour in a 40-foot, left-to-right swinger for birdie, unleashing an epic roar from friends, family and a number of Georgia Southern teammates on hand.
Throughout the match, Carr was using a different ball marker, one from the Western Amateur, which he admitted "rattled" him a bit. Then, at the par-3 15th, leading the match 3 up, he noticed something strange.
"I'm reading my putt on 15, and I just like looked down at my left thigh and I saw an outline of the ball marker," Carr said, referring to the one he uses for his dad. "It's a very unique outline so I knew it was that. I didn't reach in there but I knew it was it, and I was like, what the hell, like how is that possible."
Carr decided not to switch it out just yet, opting to still use the Western Amateur ball marker on the 15th green. He and Hitchner halved with pars, setting up a situation where Carr could halve 16 and win the match. When he arrived at the 16th green, Carr decided it was time, switching out the Western Amateur marker for the marker he uses for his dad. He finished off Hitchner with a par to win 3 and 2, securing a spot in the final match and earning an exemption into the 2023 U.S. Open and a likely invitation to the 2023 Masters.
With his mom Leila, his brother Sackett, and a host of other family and friends looking on, Carr broke down in tears during a television interview with NBC Sports' Smylie Kaufman, telling the backstory of the ball marker:
It was three months before the 2019 Southeastern Amateur, held in Carr's hometown, when he lost his dad. Carr went on to win that tournament by 10 shots, igniting a scorching hot three-year run that might culminate in a victory in golf's most prestigious amateur event. Even without a win on Sunday in New Jersey, Carr will still be at Augusta National in April, where he'll conjure up plenty more memories of times with his pops.
"The Masters in 2011, I was a huge Rory fan," Carr said. "I remember watching that at my dad's apartment, me, my dad, and Sackett, my brother, I was a diehard Rory fan. He started to lose it a little bit on the back nine and I remember just bursting out into tears, like, I lost it. I was 11 years old, I wanted him to win so bad. And I remember my dad, obviously understanding, but he just helped me understand that there wasn't that much of a reason for me to be losing my mind over this situation with Rory."
Sadly, Carr's father won't be around on Sunday to celebrate, or to console, with his son. But Carr knows he's watching, and helping, from somewhere, the re-appearance of that missing ball marker serving as all the proof of that.