BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. — At No. 1,981 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, Nick Carlson is easily the lowest ranked player remaining at the 116th U.S. Amateur Championship. Yet when he tees it up in his quarterfinal match against Dylan Meyer on Friday afternoon, he also will easily have the largest rooting section as the lone golfer left with in-state ties.
The 19-year-old is from Hamilton, Mich., a 2½-hour drive from Oakland Hills Country Club, and plays college golf at the University of Michigan, where he’ll begin his sophomore season in a few weeks. As a freshman, Carlson started in all 11 tournaments for the Wolverines, posting a 73.9 average, the fourth best from a first-year golfer in school history.
Playing in his first USGA event, Carlson wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Save for a few small events in western Michigan, he hadn’t played in a tournament this summer, his focus solely on qualifying for this week’s event and the special meaning it would bring to play in it in his home state.
“Just to play in this even is unreal,” Carlson says. “And I figured being from Michigan would get some people rooting for me, but I didn’t know just what it would be like.”
After advancing to match play as the 41st seed, Carlson has seen his galleries swell with each successive match as locals learn of his story. During Thursday’s second and third rounds, the crowds numbered in the several hundred.
In turn, Carlson’s level of play has improved, most notably in defeating reigning British Amateur champion Scott Gregory in 19 holes during his second-round match Thursday morning before defeating Cal-Berkley’s K.K. Limbhasut, also in 19 holes, in the afternoon’s third-round tilt
“He’s an emotional player, a very confident player,” said Michigan men’s coach Chris Whitten. “And we work with Nick to keep him as level as possible. But when things are going good, I think he can ride it. So having all those people there I think is a good thing for him.”
“The crowds are unreal,” Carlson says. “It pumps me up beyond belief. I can’t really explain it. I’m already a hyped up golfer and I feed off it like none other.”
That Carlson would be three matches away from winning the biggest tournament in amateur golf would have come as a surprise if you saw on the practice tee only three weeks ago.
“His swing was probably the worst I’d seen it in about a year,” Whitten says. Specifically, Carlson was having coming across the top with in his backswing. The pair made a couple of adjustments, and quickly things started to get back in synch.
“I put a ginormous band-aid on my golf swing,” Carlson says. “Luckily enough it was a Batman band-aid, a cool one, something that will really help you out. I found something with my swing and started working on it, I’ve been grinding and it’s clicked this week.”
The biggest sign that Carlson has become the fan favorite at Oakland Hills? Carlson says he heard cheers from fans wearing shirts and hats with Spartan logos from the Wolverines’ in-state rival, Michigan State.
“Yeah, I even had a couple Sparties yelling, ‘Go Blue.’ It’s unreal,” Carlson says. “It’s like movie-esque. It’s cool.”