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Irish golfer falls in first round of U.S. Amateur

Michael Blasco | Wednesday, August 27, 2008

After one of the finest summer campaigns in Notre Dame golf history, Carlos Santos-Ocampo returned to South Bend on a bittersweet note. The junior from Naples, Fla., became the first Irish golfer in three decades to reach match play at the U.S. Amateur, but fell in the opening round to Jeff Edelman of Southlake, Texas on August 20.

No. 56 seed Santos-Ocampo lost 5-3 to No. 9 seed Edelman at the par-70, 7,232-yard Pinehurst Resort No. 2 Course in Pinehurst, N.C. After Santos-Ocampo birdied the par-4 first hole to take an early lead, Edelman drew even on the par-4 third with a birdie of his own, and took the lead after Santos-Ocampo bogeyed the fourth. Edelman’s double-bogey on the fifth tied the match up, but he responded by winning the next three holes to bring the score to 5-2. Santos-Ocampo added a winning par on the 15th, but was unable to close the gap further.

Santos-Ocampo qualified for the U.S. Amateur, considered the most prestigious amateur tournament in the country, with a victory at the Notre Dame Sectional Aug. 1 at the Warren Golf Course in South Bend. Santos-Ocampo shot a four-under par 136 to share medalist honors and gain the chance to compete in the U.S. Amateur. He is the seventh Notre Dame golfer in five years to earn that distinction.

After earning the No. 56 seed, Santos-Ocampo fired a 4-over 144 in 36 holes at Pinehurst on Aug. 19, good for a tie for 47th place and making the cut for the 64-man match play field. Santos-Ocampo birdied the 36th hole to boost him one stroke above the cut line (+5); this proved to be extremely fortunate as the 26 players who finished +5 over 36 holes were forced to engage in a playoff for the final two match play spots.

“Making it to match play was a thrill,” Santos-Ocampo said.  “The last six holes of stroke play was the highlight, when my putter, all of a sudden, just got hot as I one-putted the last six holes.”

Besides becoming the first Irish golfer since 1973 to reach match play at the U.S. Amateur (the year the current format was adopted), Santos-Ocampo made the cut at three other top amateur tournaments during the summer – the Florida State Amateur, the Eastern Amateur, and the Southern Amateur. He also won the Tournament Players Association at Windstar in Naples, Fla., his hometown. Santos-Ocampo cites a focus on fundamentals for his recent success.

“I’m happy to see that my game is headed the right direction,” Santos-Ocampo said. “The areas that have improved the most in my game are my driving and my putting.  On the driver, I have added twenty yards over the past six months, and I have been able to keep it more consistently in the short grass.  This has allowed me to score better in the big tournaments where courses are considerably longer and the rough is higher.  Improving the fundamentals in my putting stroke has made it a lot easier to make putts on a consistent basis, especially when the pressure was on.”

Although he was born in Rhode Island, Santos-Ocampo grew up in the Philippines, where he picked up golf at age six. He was drawn to Notre Dame after an unofficial visit during which coach Jim Kubinski emphasized the unique spirit of Notre Dame.

Santos-Ocampo is confident that his summer successes will translate to victory this fall.

“Being able to see the fruits of your labor pay off,” Santos-Ocampo said. “Good scores in a tournament atmosphere obviously will boost your confidence.  I’m going to take that with me heading into our fall season knowing that my hard work all year truly is translating to improved scores. I’m also very optimistic about our team this year. A lot of our underclassmen, including myself, gained valuable experience from last year.”

Santos-Ocampo returns to the links next weekend at the USF Olympic Club Intercollegiate with his fellow Irish golfers on Sept. 8 at the Olympic Club in Daly City, Calif., just outside San Francisco.