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‘This is crazy.’ Inside Alex Ross’ head on the day he shot 57

On June 6, Davidson College’s Alex Ross made history when he fired a 15-under 57 in the third round of the Dogwood Invitational at Druid Hills Golf Club in Atlanta. He had 13 birdies and an eagle on the par-72, 6,836-yard layout. Ross, who grew up in Atlanta, matched the record for the lowest score in a competitive round in golf history. Bobby Wyatt shot 57 at the 2010 Alabama Boys Junior before playing at the University of Alabama. Jim Furyk holds the PGA Tour record with a 12-under 58 at the 2016 Travelers Championship. Ross shares how he made golf history during his unforgettable round earlier this month:

The morning of my third round at the Dogwood Invitational on June 6 started like most others when I’m playing competitive golf. I woke up to an alarm at 6:30 a.m. My caddie, Marc Mitchell, and I left my house in Atlanta about 30 minutes later. As I drove to Druid Hills Golf Club, we chatted about my previous round, summer tournaments and other random stuff. I was wearing a white Titleist hat, pink and white Athens Country Club shirt, black shorts and Dryjoys Tour shoes.

I felt good but also tired because I’d been sleeping in too much this summer. Also, the NBA Finals were on TV the previous night, and I really wanted to watch until the end (even though the game was a bit of a blowout. The Raptors beat the Warriors by 14, taking a 2-1 series lead). My dad kept telling me to go to sleep or else I’d be tired and play badly the following day.

I was feeling good about my game, even though I’d shot 75 in the opening round the day before. I arrived at the course and headed to the players’ dining room. I ate an omelette, bacon and fruit. After breakfast, I hit a couple putts on my eye-line practice tool and headed over to the driving range. The grass on the driving range wasn’t very good; it seemed pretty sandy and thin. I hit a couple shots poorly on the range but wasn’t too worried. My driver seemed to be missing right and left on the range, but I wasn’t too concerned because I’d driven it extremely well in the first round.

Because of the threat of inclement weather that weekend, Dogwood Invitational officials decided we were going to play 36 holes that Thursday. In the morning round, my game felt very shaky. The driver was especially (and uncharacteristically) inconsistent; I hit a tee shot out of bounds on the fourth hole and made a double bogey. With the majority of my drives (and a couple of other shots) going left, I was struggling to give myself many birdie chances.

After I made a bogey on the 10th hole, I started to steady the ship and make better swings. My driver started to feel much better, and I drove the green on the reachable par-4 16th and rolled in a 15-footer for eagle. Although I missed a short birdie putt at the 18th hole to shoot 1-over 73, my game felt like it was trending well heading into the second 18 of the day.

After signing my scorecard, I ran back into the players’ dining room to get some lunch. We were originally told we would have 45 minutes between rounds. Once we walked into the clubhouse, we were told we had only 10 minutes. I inhaled a big salad with bacon and veggies and wolfed down two barbecue pork sandwiches.

I ran out to the 10th tee, my starting hole, only a couple of minutes before my tee time. As I ran-walked up to the tee, I made a joke to my playing competitors about how far outside the cut line we were. I played with Arizona State’s Blake Wagoner, Furman’s Owen Burden and Southwestern University’s Cade Osgood. They were great guys; we had a good time playing together. It turned out that I would have needed to shoot 63 (9 under) to make the cut on the number. Before teeing off, I asked the starter what the course record was. He replied that Webb Simpson was the record holder with a 60, and I joked to the starter that I was gunning for Webb.

After making that prediction, I proceeded to hit my first shot of that second round: a thin drive down the left side of the 10th fairway. My ball hit a limb and bounced left into the trees. I didn’t have a good shot at the flag, so I hit a low 6-iron right of the green. My ball ended up in a good spot. Even though the turf was wet, I hit the chip perfectly. My ball broke a touch to the left and dropped into the middle of the hole for an unexpected birdie. If I hadn’t made it, my ball would have ended up four feet past the cup.

Druid Hills isn’t the longest golf course in the world, and I was able to take advantage with my driving distance. I was only 84 yards from a back flag on No. 2 and made an 18-footer for birdie. On the par-4, 311-yard 12th hole, I nearly drove the green, but my ball ended up just to the left. Right before my chip shot, my mom, Stephanie, showed up at the course. She greeted me with her standard, “Hi, Sweetie!” When I was a junior player, my parents watched me play all the time. Now that I’m in college, they don’t get to come as often. We all like to think that when they watch, I play better. I’m not entirely sure whether that’s true. This day, after my mom showed up, my chip shot nearly went in for an eagle. I made a 2-footer for birdie. Maybe she was good luck this time.

On the par-3 13th hole, I hit a great 5-iron right at the flag. The ball looked perfect off the clubface and it didn’t leave the stick. My ball landed right next to the hole and went 10 feet past. I had a straight downhill putt from the back. Fortunately, I was able to get a good read off Owen’s par putt. My putt had perfect pace and broke about seven inches before sneaking in the right side. It was my fourth straight birdie.

After some uncertainty, I decided to hit a high, cut drive off the tee and around the corner on the par-5 14th hole. I hit my drive a little low on the face, which ended up being OK, because driver was probably a little too much club to begin with. I was 189 yards from the flag and hit a 6-iron a little thin but right at the middle of the green. My ball rolled to the back edge, leaving me about 30 feet back down the green. My putt broke about six feet, right to left, and caught the lower lip at perfect speed. My ball went all the way around the cup and dropped in for eagle.

I’ll admit that I was a little freaked out about being 6-under after five holes. My hot start had to end at some point, right? On the par-4 15th hole, I hit my second shot way too deep. I had a 22-footer and it was superfast. My ball broke to the right and then dropped right into the hole for another birdie! I looked at my mom, shook my head in disbelief and said, “This is crazy.”

On the par-4 16th hole, which I’d reached with my driver and one-putted for eagle that morning, I hit another good drive right at the flag. My ball landed on the front of the green and rolled out to 18 feet. Looking back now, I might have freaked out a little bit about having another chance for eagle. I hit my putt way too hard and the ball went right through the break. It ended up four feet past the cup, and I made the birdie putt to move to 8-under after seven holes.

I made my first par of the day on the par-3 17th hole. Then my drive drifted a little right on the par-5 18th. I got a little lucky when my ball kicked to the left when it landed. I hit a cut 3-wood from the right rough and the wind knocked my ball down, leaving me 72 yards to a back flag. The wedge was mishit pretty badly, but my ball ended up about hole-high on the back fringe. I was unsure about the read, so I played my putt about a ball off the left edge. My putt went right into the center of the hole for my seventh birdie on the back nine.

By the time I made the turn, word was starting to spread that I’d shot 9-under 27 on the back nine. A couple of Druid Hills Golf Club employees came out of the clubhouse and started following us. They had to add up the numbers on my scorecard a couple of times because they couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe it, either, and I was super pumped going over to No. 1.

I swung my driver extremely hard on the first hole and my ball got into the wind and rolled out to about 370 yards. I hit my second shot to about 20 feet and watched Cade’s putt before mine. I drained my putt for another birdie to move to 10-under. I was still amped up on the second hole, and I hit my drive a little right and caught the trees. I was still able to get on the green in two, but I left my 15-foot birdie putt about a foot short and settled for par.

I birded the next three holes, with a 10-footer on No. 3, a 30-footer on No. 4 and a 5-footer on No. 5. The long putt on No. 4 was when I started to realize how truly insane my round was going to be. I hit a gap wedge on my second shot and thought it was a little chunky, but it somehow carried 30 feet past the hole. My putt died right into the center of the hole.

By the fifth hole, I was starting to feel super nervous. After making my third straight birdie (and 11th of the round with one eagle!), I tossed my putter to my bag and went to the next tee and waited for the green to clear. The par-3 sixth hole has a false front and a very small green. Even though I was hitting uphill and into the wind, I didn’t want to hit a dialed-back 9-iron. I was too amped and didn’t want to swing too hard. Instead, I hit a pitching wedge and tugged it toward the middle of the green. I was simply happy to be putting. I could barely feel my hands standing over the 30-footer. I hit right into the heart of the hole, but left it a foot short for par.

As I approached the seventh tee box, I realized it was starting to get dark. I asked my mom if we were going to be able to finish. I was in the middle of a special round and didn’t want to stop playing. We waited forever on the seventh tee, and I was getting super anxious that we weren’t going to be able to finish. I hit my driver into the wind and the air was thick. I wanted to fly the fairway bunker and swung too hard. My ball was drifting right. I yelled for the ball to get down or get a straight kick. Apparently, my ball hit a limb and landed right under a tree.

My second shot on the par-5 No. 7 was my best shot of the round. My ball was sitting in the deep rough above my feet. I was 188 yards from the flag and hitting into the wind. I couldn’t even see the hole on a blind shot. I told Marc, my caddie, that a 6-iron was too much out of that lie, so I decided to choke up on a 7-iron. I lashed at the ball and it never left a straight line for the flag. It landed about one foot right of the hole and rolled out to 10 feet. I don’t even remember hitting the eagle putt; the ball went past by two feet, and I cleaned up for birdie. I was 14 under with two holes to play.

On the par-3 eighth hole, my tee shot was 206 yards and a little bit uphill. We didn’t really know what the wind was doing because it was swirling, and a couple of trees blocked me out from going right at the pin, which was tucked back left. I decided to play it safe and hit my ball to the center of the green. But I hit the shot a hair fat and the ground turned my club over a bit. I ended up hitting a perfect 5-yard draw about 30 feet short of the hole. I thought my putt would break hard off a bunker, but I hit my putt too hard. I had the scariest, downhill 3-footer for par I’ve ever had. I knew it would end up way past the hole if I missed, and, fortunately, it went in for par.

As I approached the tee box on the par-5 ninth hole, I could barely breathe. I knew what was at stake. I tried to take three deep breaths before I stepped into my tee shot and swung hard. I didn’t hit it great, but I was so amped up that it ended up being OK. My second shot, from 211 yards out, was uphill and into heavy wind. It was probably playing closer to 235 yards, but I didn’t want to hit a 4-iron and knew that being short was fine. It was a big green and there was plenty of room. I aimed right and swung hard, hitting about a 10-yard draw to the front edge.

With my hands shaking and my head dancing with all kinds of thoughts, there was no way I was going to chip from there. I would have either chunked it or skulled it, so I putted from 80 feet. I just kind of whacked the ball and hoped the speed was right. Somehow, it turned out perfect. The ball stopped two feet from the hole, and I knocked it in for another birdie.

After I shook my playing partners’ hands, and hugged my mom and caddie, Druid Hills Golf Club members and other Dogwood competitors engulfed me with high-fives and handshakes. Some guy asked me for my ball. I’m glad I had the presence of mind to say, “No, I think I’ll keep this one.” I even signed a couple of autographs.

By the time I had checked and signed my scorecard, it was pretty dark. Marc and I posed for what seemed like a million photos. Everyone was calling me “Mr. 57.” My dad, Peter, little sister, Kayla, and little brother, Owen, got to the course right after I finished the round. They were in as much shock as I was.

We were among the last people to leave the golf course that night. I rode with my siblings and Marc to dinner. We went to a Willy’s near my house, because, well, I always want to go to Willy’s. From the table, while eating my favorite burrito, I called my twin sister, Julia, who was out of town and missed the whole thing.

During dinner, my dad told me that he had surgery scheduled for the next morning. He had been suffering from severe neck pain for weeks. I had no idea that surgery was even on the radar.

Once we arrived home, we couldn’t stay off our cell phones. My name and photographs of me were all over the internet, Twitter and Instagram. My phone was blowing up; at one point, I had almost 500 text messages and nearly 100 missed calls!

Slowly, one by one, my family members left the room to go to bed. That night, I made phone calls to the most important people in my golf life. First, I called my coach at Davidson, Tim Straub. Usually a very stoic man, Coach Straub could barely contain himself. He told me that he had talked to everyone on the team and kept telling me how excited he was. Next, I called my longtime swing coach, Todd Peterson. He told me how proud he was of how much I had progressed since we started working together. Finally, I called my mentor and golf buddy, Matt Adams. Matt taught me how to play golf from the time I was 7 years old. His pride swelled out of every word of congratulations.

Sometime after midnight, I finally went up to my bedroom. I had intended to sleep because I knew that I had another round to play the next day, but I couldn’t put my phone down. I ended up getting a couple hours of sleep before my alarm woke me up for the final round. I shot 2-under 70 in the fourth round of the Dogwood Invitational. I was almost as proud of that performance as the one in the third round. I ended up in a tie for 11th place with a 72-hole total of 13-under 275, which was eight shots behind the winner, Brandon Mancheno of Auburn University.

It was a week — and round of golf — that I’ll never forget.

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