Carters Journey to a Battlefield Promotion


Tom Carter became the sixth player in the history of The Nationwide Tour to earn the Battlefield Promotion directly to the PGA Tour for the remainder of this year, plus fully exempt status for 2004.
In winning the inaugural Alberta Calgary Classic by five shots over Nick Cassini, Carter sealed his third victory in the same come-from-behind fashion as the first two. The win in Calgary earned him the 'Carter Canadian Sweep' as he also won the only other Nationwide tournament north of the border--the Samsung Canadian PGA Championship nine weeks ago. He now has the opportunity to be the first player in history to capture the never-before-thought-of 'Canadian Carter Slam' when he tees it up Thursday for his first round as a member of the PGA Tour at the Bell Canadian Open.
'It is pretty unique that I've had such success in Canada,' said the 35-year-old South Florida resident. 'I'm definitely looking forward to staying in Canada next week and try to do just what I've been doing the last nine weeks.' And what a nine-week stretch it's been.
After starting the year in a positive way with a fifth-place finish in the first stateside tournament on the schedule, Carter saw things go downhill faster than Roseanne in a soap-box derby. He missed seven consecutive cuts leading into the Samsung CPGA.
'I really felt like my game was in pretty good shape so I didn't panic when I was missing those cuts by a shot or two,' Carter said, then added, 'But that's when I decided to commit to a new frame of mind and stay patient no matter what. I'm just so much more at ease with myself and my game because of the new approach.'
During his nine-week tear, Carter won three times, had two other top-10s, and earned over $300,000.
The move directly to the PGA Tour doesn't come without some reservations. For instance, Carter and his good friend Kevin Johnson drove their matching Dodge Durangos from last weeks tournament in Wichita to Denver and parked them at the airport, with the intention of flying round trip to Calgary and then driving from Denver to this week's event in Utah. With his new schedule, the closest he'll get to his car is about 900 miles.
'I was thinking about that already today and I just can't figure out any logical way for me to get my car with all my stuff in it back to Florida,' said Carter in a bemused manner. 'But it's a pretty nice predicament to have.'
The reason he isn't able to just fly to Denver and drive it home during an off week is because he doesn't believe in off weeks. When he tees it up at the Bell Canadian Open, he'll end his streak of 73 consecutive tournaments on The Nationwide Tour--the second longest streak in Nationwide Tour history. (Carl Paulson holds the record of 83).
'I guess I still have some learning to do. Like, how to take a week off,' Carter chuckled.
It's always nice to see your friends succeed, but at the same time it's somewhat sad. The Nationwide Tour and those of us that spend much of our time traveling along with it had to bid farewell to a friend. And the Nationwide Tour is losing one of its model citizens.
'He missed seven cuts in a row and his demeanor never changed from what you're seeing today as he's winning his third one,' tournament director Jim Duncan said to me on Sunday.
He then continued, 'From my perspective, if you could mold the ideal professional golfer in terms of how he treats people in and around the tour, then he would be the perfect model. When some guys were worried about going to Toronto for the Samsung CPGA during the height of the SARS paranoia, Tom just smiled and said 'Of course I'm going up there--and I might just win.''
I just love it when good things happen to good people. Speaking of which, as we say adios to Carter, we also say hello to a brand new member.
While the last group was putting out on the 72nd hole, I was up near the clubhouse chatting with Nick Cassini. After the pleasantries we started discussing how much he's made this year.
'I made about 10 last week in Wichita and somewhere around three back In Raleigh,' he said as I was starting to do some math in my head. 'How much does second place pay anyway?' Casssini asked.
I looked it up and told him $48,600. 'How much do I need to make to become a member of the Nationwide Tour?'
I again looked up the dollar amount of last year's 70th place on the money list (the amount by regulation needed to be granted special temporary membership) and told him $61,621. Now both of our heads were spinning with math. I looked up exactly how much he had made this year because I knew it would be close to that magic number, did the quick math, and told him that if Mike Standly didn't birdie the last hole, then he is a full-time member of the Nationwide Tour.
Together we sat there and listened; not able to see the green through to throngs of golf-crazed Canadian fans. We heard the familiar moan of a missed putt.
'That just might have been Standly's birdie putt,' I said. To which he responded, 'I can't wish for bad things for him, but I sure wouldn't mind if he just made par.' The 18th hole was one of the easiest of the week - an easily reachable par-5.
Next we heard a clap. Not a thunderous great-birdie-putt type of applause, just a pleasant steady clap. But then the giveaway happened. The applause didn't stop.
It was obvious that is was the customary sustained applause for the winner. Our suspicion was that neither crowd reaction sounded like Standly made birdie. So he just stood there for what had to seem like an eternity waiting for any hint as to what Standly made on 18. We were looking for the scorer, or the sign-boy, or a caddie in the group--anything.
Finally he asks, 'Foltzy, don't you have a radio or something official?' No, and I had no way of getting through the now-dispersing crowd to check with our producer who was greenside. So I called him from my banned-from-being-on-the-grounds cell phone hidden in my pocket to his equally against-the-rules phone.
'What did Standly make on 18?' I asked. 'Par,' he said. I followed with, 'It's pretty important at this very moment that you're absolutely sure.' 'Yea, he hit the green in two and three-putted for par.'
Cassini was hanging on every word. When I closed the phone I looked at him and said, 'It's unofficial, but you're now a member of the Nationwide Tour.'
By $218, Nick Cassini lifted a huge burden from his back. He was far more excited than Carter's ever been in his life.
Explaining the value of what Cassini accomplished isn't easy. It's almost one of those 'you wouldn't understand if you've never been in that position' type of things.
But for the huge number of talented professionals treading water on the mini-tours and Monday qualifying, the whole year leads up to Q-School. For those players, Q-School is all or nothing. If they happen to have one or two bad days, or even just a couple of bad holes at either first or second stage of qualifying, then it's all over - for an entire year. For a 24-year-old to now know that at the very least he'll have conditional status on next year's Nationwide Tour, it is enormous. It feels like the weight of the world is lifted off your shoulders.
And now he'll be able to enter Q School with the attitude of 'I've got nothing to lose'. Heck, he might even be able to breath (something of a rarity during Q-school). One more decent week, and Cassini could earn exemption entirely past first stage, thus making the entire process far less bald-inducing. Cassini will now get into all the remaining tournaments and he's playing well. He now has a realistic chance to post a couple of good finishes and climb into the top-20 and bypass that evil fall classic entirely. Hard to imagine why he was so excited.
Time for a prediction: If Tom Carter feels comfortable on the PGA Tour and doesn't get intimidated looking up and down the range at the greatest players is the world, expect to see his name in contention on more than a few occasions this year. He's got tons of game--that's never been in doubt. His biggest challenge will be feeling like he belongs. He's so soft-spoken and unassuming, that he might need a couple of weeks to get his feet wet. But when he does, look out.
And I wouldn't rule out Nick Cassini's chances of being out there with Carter next year.
Email your thoughts to Jerry Foltz