Walking up to the 18th green at Stonehenge Golf & Country Club, Mason Carmel’s heart was racing. “This is a big putt,” he said to his rules official. With months of struggles lingering in the back of his mind, just eight feet stood between the Bethesda, Md., native and his first round under-par in nearly a year.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous,” Carmel said. “I’ve had putts to win tournaments and I’ve been fine, but as soon as I hit it, I looked straight up at the hole and I was like, ‘please go in.’ I was so excited. I gave my mom a big hug and almost teared up a little bit.”
With the birdie, Carmel finished his second round of the AJGA Stonehenge Junior Open with a 1-under-par 70 and sits at 5-over-par 147 for the tournament.
“Today was the first time in about a year that I really felt controlled. I just kind of came up to the tee and told myself to relax and believe in myself,” Carmel said. “I told myself to be patient and play the course instead of letting the course play me.”
For Carmel, the past 18 months have been as up-and-down as his rounds. In February 2010, Carmel underwent an appendectomy and was sidelined from all physical activity for about six months. An all-around athlete who also played football, basketball and lacrosse, Carmel said he wasn’t allowed to lift weights or swing a golf club until late June of last year.
Despite a lack of practice time, when Carmel got back on the golf course that summer, his game was spot on. After a handful of tournament victories and top-three finishes, Carmel was ranked No. 1 in the PGA Middle Atlantic points standings and was named player of the year by the MAPGA Junior Tour.
Just as soon as his game reached a peak, however, everything began to unravel for Carmel. A few rounds over par and missed cuts later, Carmel found himself in a slump so large that he thought the only solution was to quit.
Since last August, Carmel has played in about 20 tournaments, and never once broke par.
“There were times that I just wanted to put down the clubs and say I’m done. I was really fighting a lot with my emotional self this summer and my mental game,” Carmel said. “I just didn’t think I could get back to the point I was at.”
Fortunately for Carmel, a few good putts and some lucky breaks – including a chip-in Wednesday – provided the boost needed to get the proverbial monkey off his back. After signing his scorecard, Carmel credited a strong support system as well as a positive outlook for getting him through the tough rounds over the past year.
“I was never going to find out if I could accomplish my goals if I didn’t at least try,” Carmel said. “My friends and parents gave me the confidence I needed. They just told me to keep digging and you’ll get there. And today was one of those days that just got there.”
-Written by Ben Marshall, AJGA Communications