Pat Carter watches as his lone opening-round birdie prepares to fall into the cup Thursday.
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS - Pat Carter must have felt like he was attending a class reunion of sorts during Thursday's opening round of the Greenbrier Classic.There were Lee Williams and Andrew Svoboda, who the 13-time West Virginia Amateur champion beat in 2003 during the match-play portion of the U.S. Amateur. And there were Jason Gore and D.J. Trahan, two other professional golfers who Carter competed against at several other U.S. Amateur tournaments."It's funny because Andrew Svoboda came up and spoke to me and I beat him in the first round [in 2003],'' said Carter. "He won everything that year in college. He got a hold of somebody he didn't know and fortunately I was playing well that week."I've seen a bunch of guys. I talked to Jason Gore. We played in Seattle and he was like, 'Holy cow, how long ago was that?' He was like, '1996!' I played with D.J. Trahan and he came up and said hello. Just a bunch of people out here that I've played with."
Although Carter opted to forgo chasing the PGA Tour dream that many of his fellow competitors have finally realized for family and a workaday job as an insurance executive in Huntington, he got a taste of the American Dream on the Fourth of July.Carter shot a 5-over-par 75 on the par-70, 7,287-yard Old White TPC as one of only two amateurs among the field of touring pros that included Phil Mickelson and Tom Watson. Carter, a West Virginia Golf Association Hall of Fame inductee this fall, earned a sponsor's exemption into the Classic after winning last year's West Virginia Amateur.True to form, Carter turned in 13 pars and one birdie Thursday, but uncharacteristically had two bogeys and two double bogeys.Carter's round started falling apart before it really started when he had a double bogey on his fifth hole - a 388-yard par 4 - and was 2 over on the front nine. He then opened the back nine with bogeys on the 385-yard par-4 10th and the 493-yard par-4 11th. To make matters worse, Carter added another double on No. 13, a 494-yard par 4. He made his only birdie on the 616-yard par-5 17th to finish 1 under over the last five holes. "Five was definitely a momentum killer,'' said Carter. "I got through a tough stretch on 1, 2 and 3, which are really good golf holes. I didn't hit a very good shot out of the fairway [on No. 5]. There's no excuse. I had my hands on it.
"I made double on that hole and lost 21/2 shots to the field. I hung in there and didn't have any other mistakes on the front, then another terrible bogey on 10, which is another birdie hole. The short holes got me today. I did play well coming in. After 13 I didn't have any bogeys. That's a good finish.''If anyone knows the 99-year-old Old White course, it's Carter. But the atmosphere was definitely more charged for the Classic than the State Am."It's so screwy, I played the easy holes 3 over,'' Carter said. "You'd think you'd play them 1 under and right there's the difference in a 71 or a 75. I tried a shot on 13 that I'm probably not capable of hitting. I wouldn't have tried that shot [normally], but if you're thinking about making the cut you've got to make some shots."I didn't throw away too many shots. I putted well. I didn't have a three putt and pretty typical, I grinded it out and hung in there. I'm not utterly disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised how I hit it off the tee. The short holes jumped up and bit me, and that's not normal for me. Normally, I would play those a little better.''
Carter said the support he received from the gallery was tremendous."It grew as the day went,'' he said. "I had a ton of support out there that came from home. [They] got to see a few good shots. They got to see a few bad shots, too. There was a bunch of support on 17 and it was nice to make a birdie there.
"Just being out here with these guys. ... They're just incredible. I'm tired and these guys don't even look like they've broken a sweat. It's tough when you don't do it [every day]. I never wear pants. There's still pressure. I want to do well. I have numbers that I want to shoot toward and I didn't get there.''Carter's playing partners were pros Scott Gardiner of Australia and Paul Haley II of Dallas. Gardiner carded a 2-over 72 while Haley clubbed a 4-over 74. "They were great to play with,'' said Carter. "I told them that I was going to need a few balls signed for the kids. At the end they were telling me, 'Way to grind it out. Way to hang in there.''' Old White was ripe for the picking as Tommy Gainey and Johnson Wagner each shot 8-under 62 for the first-round lead."The course was playable,'' Carter said. "The pins were accessible and the softness of the greens. ... The length wasn't an issue."I hit some hybrids in, but it wasn't like I couldn't make pars on any of them. The scores we're going to be so low with the way these guys play. I needed it to be firm and fast with a little tougher conditions with my knowledge of the golf course.''
After a bevy of low scores Thursday, the cut after today's second round could be well under par. Carter tees off from hole No. 10 at 2:10 p.m. today with the same grouping."I knew with the soft conditions, it was going to be miracle if I did make [the cut],'' said Carter. "If [the cut] would have been even 1 over I would have felt like I could have made it. If it's going to be 2 or 3 under, it's going to be very difficult.''Carter is still recovering from an eye injury he sustained during an assault at a Willie Nelson concert in April in Huntington. He was scheduled to have surgery a couple of weeks ago for the fractured orbital socket around his left eye, but decided against it after receiving another opinion from a doctor in Cincinnati.Carter said the doctor recommended waiting because there is a risk of making his vision even worse. He said that sometimes he sees two or three golf balls in the air, and has to sometimes blink and his vision returns to normal for a while."It's as good as it can be,'' said Carter, who withdrew from last month's West Virginia Open because of the injury. "Who knows what it's going to do.''Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.