DAVENPORT, Fla. – Three months ago, Barton College freshman Dermot McElhennon was paired with Alex Carpenter in the final round of a Division II event at TPC Sawgrass. It was McElhennon’s fourth collegiate start, he was playing a storied venue, and in Carpenter he was facing one of the nation’s top players. In third place heading into the final day, McElhennon staggered to an 86, and a lesson was learned.
“You just can’t watch him,” McElhennon said of Carpenter, “because the way he plays, he’s just on a different level.”
Tuesday’s rematch in the final round of the Golfweek Division II Spring Invitational was markedly different. Playing the 18th hole at Reunion Resort’s Legacy Course, McElhennon had 135 yards to the flag, uphill, straight into a stiff breeze, with the teams huddled behind the green, with the team title on the line. He ripped a 9-iron through the wind, and the ball settled 4 feet from the cup. Barton College coach John Hackney ambled down to the green.
“How do we stand?” McElhennon asked.
“If you make this putt,” Hackney replied, “we’ll be all right.”
A few minutes later, McElhennon calmly holed the putt – the final stroke of a back-nine 31 – and Barton College forced a tie with Lynn University, though not everyone knew. Lynn coach Chris Greenwood thought his team had lost, so he broke into the Barton huddle and offered congratulations; Hackney looked on in disbelief. Because of tight travel schedules, tournament officials decided before the first round that in the event of a tie, co-champions would be named. So Barton and Lynn, tied at 7-under 857, shared the title.
“It still hasn’t sunk in,” McElhennon said.
It will during the 10-hour, 640-mile van ride back to the school’s campus in Wilson, N.C. Hackney said the team likely would arrive around 4:30 a.m; McElhennon, meanwhile, has an introductory Spanish class at 8. “I don’t know about that one,” he said, sheepishly. “Might not make an appearance for that.”
There were hectic travel plans for Carpenter and his Abilene Christian teammates, too. They were whisked from Reunion to the airport for a 6:30 p.m. flight, a risky proposition, considering Orlando’s notoriously bad traffic. In tow was Carpenter’s medalist trophy, an increasingly familiar carry-on. It was his fifth victory in six events this season, as the sophomore matures into one of the best players in college golf, not just Division II.
“I think I can compete at any college level,” Carpenter said. “I like where I’m at right now.”
He closed with 65 on Tuesday, an impressive feat after four-putting the first green for an opening double bogey. He finished at 13-under 203, two better than McElhennon and Coker College’s Jake Murphy.
For Carpenter, there seemed to be no better way to prepare for his first PGA Tour start. Later this month, he will tee it up in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, a perk for winning the 2010 Southern Amateur. He’ll stay busy, too, with Abilene Christian back in action this weekend, in Austin, Texas, then again the next week in Fort Worth.
“I feel great about my game,” he said.
Right now, in a van headed north on the interstate, McElhennon feels the same way.