E.A. Sports Today

‘It was a tough day’

Mississippi pro draws infamy for posting 127 in U.S. Open qualifying at Silver Lakes; Anniston CC assistant had a front-row seat

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

SILVER LAKES – Inside the doorway between the pro shop and business offices at Silver Lakes hangs a display of scorecards from the best rounds ever shot at the Robert Trent Jones Trail facility.

After Wednesday, somebody in the shop suggested they have another display for the highest scores at the course. Those scores will probably be kept in the bottom of some desk drawer.

Silver Lakes is getting some national notoriety today, if only by association, for something most players would want to forget.

Clifton McDonald, a pro from Meridian, Miss., shot the highest score in a U.S. Open qualifier so far this year when he posted 127 Wednesday in local qualifying on the Heartbreaker and Mindbreaker nines.

His score missed the cut for the fifth qualifying spot by 55 shots and brought him worldwide social media infamy. Robby Shelton, who made the cut in last week’s PGA Tour event, was medalist with 69, which was one stroke more than McDonald shot on the Heartbreaker 9.

At least McDonald posted. Eleven players in the field either NC’d or WD’d, so there’s no telling what they shot.

What McDonald thought about his day was not known. Golf Channel said he denied its interview request through a USGA official.

It was a rough day for all three players in his group. Chris Burley, the assistant pro at Anniston Country Club, playing his first significant competitive round since high school, shot 107, the second highest posted score of the round. The third player, Brandon Goodwin of Montgomery, withdrew at the turn.

“It was a tough day, that’s a tough course,” Burley said. “The first six holes of the first nine we were ball-searching the whole time as a group; one of us was always somewhere.

“We talked about it (withdrawing at the turn), but we paid our $200 to be out here let’s just finish up. We’ve got eight or nine more holes. It’s good experience and competition you don’t get much often. I wanted to finish, myself. Let’s just finish, turn it in and try again next year.”

That may be open for debate. Golf Channel reported USGA guidelines for Open qualifying state “if a player fails to return a score within 12 strokes of the USGA Course Rating, future entries may be declined if documentation is not provided demonstrating that the player is capable of competing at the national championship level.”

So, next year the qualifying may return to Silver Lakes as AGA officials told director of golf Jason Callan they would be interested in returning, but it’s uncertain McDonald will be.

During the course of the round Burley understood McDonald used to be an assistant pro in Mississippi who regularly played in these qualifying events, but had been in the military the last seven years and now is trying to get back in the game. He was not designated as an amateur, so he was not subject to a handicap standard to which they are held in order to play.

Those observing the round said it could’ve been worse. McDonald hit four balls into the fescue off the first tee – Heartbreaker No. 1 – but somehow was able to find the first ball; he took a 7 on the hole. His round had every number from 5 to 9, plus an 11 and a 14.

“Nothing was clicking for him at all,” Burley said. “He handled it very well. He kind of took it as it is and tried to play the next shot. At some point it gets to where you know you’re completely out of it and you try not to make a mess of the thing.”

McDonald did have two bogeys, but not even those – on Heartbreaker 6 and Mindbreaker 3 – could change his luck.

“He was still struggling so much he was kind of anxious as to what the next shot would be like,” Burley said. “He was still skeptical of what the next hole would have for him.”

Unless some other unfortunate soul has an even bigger meltdown later in the process, the Alabama Golf Association, which oversaw the qualifier, will have the distinction of the highest and lowest scores in a U.S. Open qualifier each of the last two years. Sam Love of Trussville, who got through here Wednesday, shot 61 last year in local qualifying at Limestone Springs for the low round in all of qualifying.

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