SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Alex Carpenter has relieved some self-imposed pressure, and now finds himself on the leaderboard at one of the nation’s top amateur events.
Carpenter is fourth after two rounds of the Jones Cup after shooting consecutive rounds of 72. He finished Saturday’s second round with a birdie after hitting 4-iron to 3 feet at Ocean Forest’s difficult 18th hole. He’ll start the final round four shots behind Cory Whitsett.
Carpenter is a senior at Abilene Christian, a Division II school in Texas. He was among the nation’s elite collegians, irrespective of division, in 2011. He won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the NCAA Division II player of the year, represented the United States at the Palmer Cup and beat an elite field at that year’s Southern Amateur.
That success led to high expectations, though. The PGA Tour’s changes to its qualifying structure also had him thinking about a premature leap to professional golf. He debated turning pro in 2012 to play the final Q-School that offered PGA Tour cards, but his results suffered as he started playing too aggressively.
“I was just putting too much pressure on myself,” Carpenter said. “I got my expectations up really high.” He let the Q-School deadline pass and decided to return for his senior year of college.
“I decided this year I was going to put my head down and try as hard as I could and try and win a national championship with the team,” he said. He also said he returned to “Alex Carpenter golf,” which emphasizes hitting fairways and greens instead of shooting at hole locations.
Carpenter said he’ll try to earn a spot on the Walker Cup team, then return to Abilene Christian in the fall to finish his degree in business management.
He’s coming off high finishes at the Dixie Amateur (T-5) and Patriot All-American (T-10). He’s No. 20 in the Golfstat Cup, which ranks players in all divisions.
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MAKING ADJUSTMENTS: That first year of college is full of changes for every student. Matthew NeSmith learned that this fall at South Carolina, but the 2012 AJGA Rolex Player of the Year is excited for the spring season. He’s off to a good start at the Jones Cup, too, standing T-9 after shooting 74-72 at Ocean Forest.
“It’s just a big change,” NeSmith said of college. “I dropped 17 pounds, and living in a new environment and getting used to everything, and making some swing changes for the better. I know my scores haven’t shown it, but I think I’m a lot better golfer than at any point last year. I just need to get a few rounds under my belt. I’m excited.”
The weight loss came from the team’s workouts, which also helped him hit his irons and driver approximately 15 yards longer. “Between dropping some weight and fixing my golf swing a little bit, I didn’t think I played that bad,” he said of the fall season.
NeSmith is No. 247 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings after his first semester of college golf. In addition to being the AJGA’s top player last year, he also won the Azalea Invitational, a premier amateur event.
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SECOND CHANCE: John Engler was an alternate for the 2001 Walker Cup at Ocean Forest. He’s there this week as he tries to make another run at the team, more than a decade after his first shot.
Engler is among the contingent that will benefit from the U.S. Golf Association’s decision to mandate two Walker Cup roster spots to mid-amateurs. Engler, a former Clemson All-American and PGA Tour player, is T-9 through 36 holes at the Jones Cup after shooting 72-74.
A high finish here would be a big boost to his candidacy. Engler said he can play only six or eight events per year because of injuries to his right foot sustained in a 2003 car accident, but he may alter his schedule to give himself a better chance at making the team. His next event is the Azalea Invitational, which he won in 1997.
“I’m going to go out and play the best I can,” Engler said, “and not put a lot of pressure on myself.”
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SHORT SHOTS: North Florida’s Sean Dale is in fourth place at even par after shooting 71-73. Dale attempted the most recent Q-School as an amateur, advancing to the second stage. … Defending champion Justin Thomas bogeyed two of his final three holes to shoot 71. That was seven shots better than his opening round. He moved up 32 spots, to T-23. … John Catlin is playing his second tournament this week. He played earlier this week at the Arizona Intercollegiate, finishing 18th to help New Mexico to the team title. The Lobos ended No. 1 Cal’s five-tournament winning streak. Catlin returned to Albuquerque with the team Tuesday evening, then left Wednesday morning for Georgia. He’s T-29 after shooting 77-73. … Drew Weaver, a 2009 Walker Cup team member, played Saturday as a marker. Weaver was the leading money winner on the eGolf Professional Tour last year.