BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — There were tears in Nick Carlson’s eyes as he rode back on a cart toward the Oakland Hills clubhouse early Saturday afternoon, the hard-luck loser in 21 holes to Curtis Luck in the U.S. Amateur semifinals. But there was also a smile on his face, the 19-year-old University of Michigan sophomore thanking any and everyone for all their support.
“Great job guys, the course was in fantastic shape,” said Carlson as he rode past members of the grounds crew.
With Carlson ranked 1,981st in the World Ranking, few could have anticipated that he would have reached the semifinals of the premier amateur event, knocking off the reigning British Amateur and Western Amateur champions in the process.
Yet with each successive match-play win, Carlson managed to pick up new fans at Oakland Hills, a fact helped by his Michigan ties—besides playing for the Wolverine men's golf team, he grew up 2½ hours away in Hamilton, Mich.
Come Saturday, more than 5,000 spectators were in attendance, the large majority following Carlson’s match with Luck. Asked if the big gallery put added pressure on him, Carlson said it did the opposite.
“I think it took some pressure off, to be honest,” Carlson said. “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.”
Carlson had focused all his efforts this summer on playing in this event, the championship having particular meaning being in his home state. Yet the experience exceeded his wildest expectations, and not just from a golf standpoint.
“Someone told me yesterday that their ticket sales were up because of me,” Carlson said, his voice quivering thinking that crowds would come out to watch him, the fourth man on the Wolverine squad, play golf. “That’s pretty incredible to me.”
Michigan men’s coach Chris Whitten thinks the experience can be a transformational one for Carlson.
“Nick was a confident guy to begin with, but for a lot of college golfers, a lot of them have talent and ability, but until you get in that kind of a situation you just don’t know how you’re going to react,” Whitten said. “Now Nick knows that instead of hoping he can play to this level, he’ll expect to. He’ll keep this in his back pocket forever.”