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Boilermaker, Former Teacher, 'Tiger' Tamer Lead Field into Final Round of SOS Championship
Forget the old adage "Don't get mad, get even," because getting mad has done wonders for Indiana's Ron Carter. In fact, getting mad has landed Carter atop the leaderboard at the 28th Society of Seniors Championship at Quail Ridge in Boynton Beach, Fla., and now he is just 18 holes away from capturing one of senior amateur golf's most coveted titles.
Tuesday, after telling himself to "Get off his [expletive deleted] and play golf!" he fired a 69 to put himself in contention. Wednesday, after lipping out three putts in the first four holes and three-putting two other greens, the plucky Carter gave himself another fiery pep talk, rallied, and posted a 68 - the best round of the day - and took the outright lead in the tournament.
"I got irritated with myself. I should never three-putt twice in one round," he stated matter-of-factly as he sat for his media center interview. "I refuse to give up, I refuse to not play up to my ability, and I refuse to lose focus. So getting mad actually relaxed me. I knew I would rally."
You gotta love spunk, and you gotta respect passion. After all, that's what the entire Society of Seniors is all about: that fierce desire to be the best of the best.
While we're at it, "Rally" is a strange word to use when you strike the ball and manage the course as well as Carter did. He hit 17 fairways - all with driver - and all 18 greens en route to carding six birdies, an astounding feat at the subtle, yet dangerous North Course. Now the former Purdue Boilermaker shortstop, who is a retired insurance agent and father of a golf pro, leads former school teacher Bill Zylstra by one stroke and four other players by two going into the final round at the home of senior amateur golf.
Still, he'll have his hands full, as several other iron-willed, steely-nerved veterans of senior amateur events are close on his heels. Zylstra posted a 70 in the blue skies and cloudless conditions to go with his first-round 68 to finish the day at 6-under.
"Both the conditions and the course were perfect today. If you hit a bad shot, you ought to psychoanalyze yourself," said the former school teacher and golf course owner from Rutland Township, Mich., just an 8-iron from Detroit, who birdied some of the hardest holes on the course, including the stern par-4s at Nos. 10, 13, and 18.
"If you just keep the ball in the fairway, good scores are out there," stated the well-decorated champion, who has won over 30 events overt he course of his illustrious career.
"Tiger Tamer" Rick Woulfe also positioned himself for a final round charge. His 71 left him in a four-way tie for third at 4-under.
"I played great, but I putted like a dog," he admitted candidly, after lipping out four putts and leaving another on the edge.
"That ball was half in the hole, but it just wouldn't drop," he rasped angrily. "Yesterday, the hole wouldn't stop getting in the way of the ball, but today the pin placements were tougher, near dangerous slopes, so you had to be so careful not to let putts get away, and as result, I just didn't make a thing."
Indeed, it looks like the pre-tournament prediction was right: the best putter will win this week.
Woulfe will have to get the putter going in the final round, however, if he wants to soar past Carter and Zylstra, wo show no signs of going backwards, but he is one of the popular picks to take home the hardware. After all, he won this championship the last time it was played at Quail Ridge in 2006
"I've always liked it here. I've played in at least six USGA tournament qualifiers here and never shot higher4 than 70," he observed honestly. "It sets up well for me because I turn the ball over right to left. My only worry is that we play a slightly shorter course for this tournament, and I've had to club down off the tee to 3-woods and long irons."
Indeed, that is something to watch with great care. First-round leader Tom Knapp, who had a sparkling 68 on the first day, drove through the first fairway and out-of-bounds twice on the 90-degree dogleg opening hole. He opened with an eight and never recovered, falling off the leaderboard like his parachute didn't open.
Woulfe, however, has been particularly tempered in the crucible of competitive golf: he's the only man in the field to defeat Tiger Woods in match play. At the 1991 Dixie Amateur, he waxed a 16 year-old Woods 4 & 3. Few people indeed have skinned Tiger's pelt, on the golf course at least.
The group at 4-under also includes Alan Fadel, Tim Miller and first round co-leader Joe Sommers. Fadel, in particular, has been quietly sneaking up on the field. He's fired a pair of 70s, posting only three birdies all week and two of those were three-putts.
"I've just tried to control my ball flight and keep it away from the OB and the water," he said, smiling nervously, knowing full well how hard it is to make up a lot of shots at Quail Ridge, but also how easy it is to lose enough ground in a heartbeat to be fatal to one's championship hopes.
"This is such a big event, with such a high caliber of player, and the golf course is so relentless, that you have to keep pace, and that's tough because these greens have a lot of micro-movement. You can make three birdies in a row, and then you can make nothing all day, so you really need to do everything well, but especially you have to hit greens and give yourself as many looks as possible."
Then the affable Fadel smiled, and a warm glow spread over his face. "To win here would be such an honor. This is such a huge event, not just for us, but for all of golf. We all regard winning here as a major accomplishment. It's a banner day in the life of any golfer."
Five players are right behind at 3-under, including first round co-leaders Bill Leonard and Dennis Helms. A total of 13 players are within six shots of the lead.
The field also benefitted from the collapse or withdrawal of three of the biggest names in amateur golf. Chris Lange, the 2009 Travis Invitational winner and three-time club champion at Pine Valley, shot a disappointing 75 to drop to even-par; 2009 Senior Amateur Champion Vinny Giles's woes continued as he ballooned to a dismal 76; and perennial threat Pat Tallent withdrew this morning with a back injury. Their absence opens the door for the rest of the field.
"That's like the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, and Baltimore Ravens all missing the NFL playoffs," remarked one golf fan. "A lot of guys have a great shot to take home the gold now."
Yes, but as Indiana Jones famously said in "Raiders of the Lost Ark," the last step is often when the ground crumbles beneath your feet, and Quail Ridge is insidious in the way strokes slip away at seemingly the most benign moments, particularly on the greens, and nothing is more agonizing than a missed short putt.
There is a famous skywriter who lives near the course. You know . . . one of those guys that flies an airplane and writes messages in the sky in smoke. He's been ubiquitous this week with kindly messages - in particular "Jesus 4 Gives."
He's half right: Jesus certainly forgives, but a cold putter doesn't. A cold putter smirks at you, winks bawdily, and then makes a sassy, biting remark, usually right in front of your friends, and doesn't even bother to apologize. It comes into your house without invitation (tracking mud all over the rug), eats all your food, drinks all your booze, smokes all your smokes, and ransacks the place, kicking the dog on the way out, and you can't even give it the whipping, whomping, or wood-shedding it so richly deserves.
And Thursday is not the time to get into a spat with the most important club in your bag. History is waiting. Sam Snead lived and played years and years of golf here. Claude Harmon had the entire country to choose for his golf, but he also lived and played for many years at Quail Ridge. Harold Kirkpatrick, the famous amateur who played in the Masters, British Open, and U.S. Open is a Quail Ridge member, resident, and long-time Society of Seniors competitor and champion. Moreover, except for Long Cove in South Carolina, no course has hosted this tournament - the de facto Tour Championship of senior amateur golf - more times, four in all.
But perhaps Maury Povich, the famous broadcaster and talk show host, best summed up what this tournament and the Society of Seniors mean to all its members and to golf.
"It's difficult to make friends late in life because we get set in our ways and our circle starts to dwindle as age creeps up on us. But through the Society, you meet terrific people who love and respect all the virtues of golf that we cherish - honor, integrity, and sportsmanship - and suddenly your life gets an infusion of vibrancy and warmth and new experiences," he beamed, sighing with content and fond remembrance, and his smile widening.
"The competition is world-class and has opened up a whole world of tournaments for all of us to compete against the best players in the country for our age, but the friends I have made and the experiences we have shared are the paramount joy. Instead of my world closing in and shrinking as I got older, my life has broadened and become far more enriched, and for that I am forever grateful."
[Author's Note: Palm Beach's own Craig Dolch, the cheerful and universally well-liked and respected golf journalist celebrates his birthday today. As the old song goes:
Happy Birthday, oh my friend! Blow out candles once again…]
Quail Ridge Country Club (North Course), 6,578 yards, Par 72
Ron Carter -7
Bill Zylstra -6
Alan Fadel -4
Joe Sommers -4
Rick Woulfe -4
Tim Miller -4
Bill Leonard -3
Dennis Helms -3
Paul Schlacter -3
Pete Allen -3
Tom Humphrey -3
Joe Whisenant -2
Van Lefferdink -1
Chris Lange E
Chris Maletis E
Mark Weston E
Mike Jackson E
Ray Womack E
Tom Knapp E
Mark Rubin +1
Phil Pavoti +1
Larry Boswell -4
Jim Holbrook -2
Dave Spannbauer -1
Alan Foster E
Paul Quigley +1
Six Players at +3
Joe Estes +5
Dick McClure +8
Henry Kerfoot +10
Wendell Kop +10
Four Players at +11
Since launching his first golf writing website in 2004, http://www.jayflemma.thegolfspace.com, Jay Flemma's comparative analysis of golf designs and knowledge of golf course architecture and golf travel have garnered wide industry respect. In researching his book on America's great public golf courses (and whether they're worth the money), Jay, an associate editor of Cybergolf, has played over 220 nationally ranked public golf courses in 37 different states. Jay has played about 1,649,000 yards of golf - or roughly 938 miles. His pieces on travel and architecture appear in Golf Observer (www.golfobserver.com), Cybergolf and other print magazines. When not researching golf courses for design, value and excitement, Jay is an entertainment, copyright, Internet and trademark lawyer and an Entertainment and Internet Law professor in Manhattan. His clients have been nominated for Grammy and Emmy awards, won a Sundance Film Festival Best Director award, performed on stage and screen, and designed pop art for museums and collectors. Jay lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and is fiercely loyal to his alma maters, Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and Trinity College in Connecticut.