By Chris Lang, VSGA manager of media and communications
Blake Carter (VSGA photo)
VIRGINIA BEACH — The pressure was off Blake Carter as he began his third and final round at the 44th Virginia State Golf Association Mid-Amateur Championship on Sunday at Bayville Golf Club. He opened the day four shots behind leader Mikey Moyers, who didn’t make a bogey during the championship’s first two days.
At that point, a player is free to attack. Because, really, what is there to lose? After opening with three straight pars, Carter eagled the par-5 4th hole, jumpstarting a sizzling stretch in which he seized control of a tightly contested championship. Carter played the middle 12 holes Sunday at 9 under par, and he posted a 9-under 63 for a three-day aggregate 202 to win the championship by four strokes.
Carter (Chatmoss CC) finished clear of Moyers (Greene Hills Club), the 36-hole leader who shot 71 Sunday and finished at 207. Dustin Groves (The Club at Glenmore) returned a final-round 69 and finished in third at 208. Steve Serrao (Willow Oaks CC) and Tim Pemberton (Two Rivers CC) tied for fifth at 209. The top five finishers gained exemptions from qualifying for the 2021 VSGA Amateur Championship.
Carter, who played in the penultimate grouping, knew he needed a hot start to pressure the lead group. And he got it with that eagle at 4. He birdied No. 5 and No. 9 to make the turn at 4 under for the day.
“The front nine plays so different,” Carter said. “You have two par 5s real quick, and you kind of have to get them. I knew that 9 was moved up, so I was really looking forward to that. You’ve got to shoot a couple under on the front.”
Carter, a long hitter who played at Longwood University and spent time in Canada on the PGA’s Mackenzie Tour before regaining his amateur status, wanted to just hold it together on the difficult opening stretch of the back nine. Instead, he made birdie on 10 and par on 11 before making birdie on the next four holes. Suddenly, he was free of a packed leaderboard, and the championship had become a runaway.
“I played 10 through 14 like a dream,” Carter said. “I really wasn’t expecting that. But I hit some really good shots – I hit it to 2 inches on 12, hit it to 2 feet on 14 and birdied 15 after. You just can’t make any mistakes back there. Mikey is really good. He didn’t make a bogey for his first 36 holes. You just have to play solid golf all day, and I did.”
Groves tried to keep pace with Carter early. He had a four-birdie-in-five-hole stretch on the front nine before his momentum stopped with a bogey on No. 8. He realized early on the back nine that he was watching something special unfold in his group.
“Super fun to watch,” Groves said. “Honestly, I’m happy I didn’t have a good day and shoot 5 or 6 under and lose. He deserves everything today. He was awesome. A 63 will usually get it done on Sunday.
“Just all around, no mistakes. Putter was really solid. He hit it close to the hole. He drove it great. And honestly, he was laughing about it. He was just having a great time, wasn’t uptight at all. It’s a pleasure when you get to watch that.”
The final grouping, featuring Moyers, Evan Beck (Princess Anne CC) and Justin Young (Ballyhack GC) never got going on Sunday. Moyers’ bogey-free streak ended when he made a 4 on the par-3 5th. He got back even with a birdie on No. 7, but bogeys at 9 and 13 put him 2 over for the day, and by that time, Carter had made his move.
“I just didn’t hit it very well today,” Moyers said. “If somebody’s going to go out and shoot 9 under, though, I’m fine losing to that. That’s just good playing.”
Beck was 2 under through six holes and made a clutch par save on 7, but he bogeyed four of the next five holes to fall out of contention. He shot a 1-over 73 and finished sixth at 210.
Carter called the victory the best of his career. He’s had a strong season, including a trip to match play at the VSGA Amateur. Improved putting has provided his game a major boost, and he noticed that his putting had slipped some on Saturday’s second round, when he shot 71 in an afternoon interrupted by two rain delays.
“Last night, we went out to dinner, then afterward I took my little putting mirror and looked at it in the hotel room,” Carter said. “I realized my eyes were way outside of the ball. I changed that last night, and then I threw it on the (practice) green this morning before I went out, and if it was inside 18 feet, if something had to go in, it did. It was just making sure my eyes were lined up, and my shoulders were lined up, because I have a tendency to get really open.”
The practice paid off immediately. Carter didn’t miss much on Sunday. He tied the Bayville competitive course record held by Brinson Paolini (though the course setup was longer when Paolini shot 63 during the 2012 VSGA Amateur); posted the lowest closing round by a winner in the history of the championship; and shot the second-lowest three-day total in tournament history.
“After 12, I wanted to run away and hide, keep making good shots, and keep making birdies,” Carter said. “And I ended up doing it, which was nice.”
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