Matt Ceravolo keeping head up after Sectional fizzle
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Matt Ceravolo of Palm Beach Gardens seemed to have a U.S. Open berth locked up Monday. After taking a three-shot lead with a 5-under 67 in the morning round, all he needed to do was post a 2-over 74 to book his spot next week at Chambers Bay Golf Club in coastal Washington.
Then it all came apart in the afternoon, leaving Ceravolo frustrated and exasperated as he shot 84 to miss the cut by 10 shots. But the way the 22-year-old handled what might have been a devastating experience showed he’s made big strides in the mental game.
“Rory McIlroy said after he shot 81 in the final round of the Masters (in 2011) that it was the most important round of golf in his life, and I think this is one of my most important rounds as well,” he said. “I learned a lot today.”
Andy Pope, 31, knows where Ceravolo is coming from. A top player in his formative years who starred at Xavier University, Pope has struggled for most of his career but Monday put together rounds of 73-67-140 to tie Luke Donald and FSU junior Jack Maguire for low medalist honors and claim a spot in his first USGA event since he played in the U.S. Junior in 2002.
Pope these days mostly struggles for starts on the Web.com Tour, where he has made 2-of-5 cuts this year and earned $3,466.
“This is great,” Pope said of his spot in next week’s Open field. “I’ve been working on my game, getting better every year. This is a milestone.”
Tying Donald, a former world No. 1, for medalist honors was a moment he will cherish.
“It definitely means a lot. I grew up a Chicago kid and he went to Northwestern, so I definitely kind of idolized him. It means a lot to see your name up there with those guys. It means the hard work I’ve been doing is paying off.
“If you’d told me eight years ago when I was on the mini-tours that, hey, you’re going to tee it up right now in a PGA event, I’d probably (would have shot) in the 80’s across the board, no denying that. But with the experience I’ve gained over the last eight or nine years, it feels like I’m right where I’m supposed to be.”
Ceravolo no doubt doesn’t see himself following a similar path. A top junior player who faced Jordan Spiethenough times he now calls Spieth a friend, Ceravolo at one point expected to make the kind of progression Jupiter’s Daniel Berger made after high school: two years at Florida State, one on Web.com, and now, at 22, a full-fledged member of the PGA Tour.
Ceravolo’s career has developed much more slowly. He’s played some on the local mini-tours and some on the E Tour in North Carolina. Working with swing coach Martin Hall at Ibis Country Club and mental coach John Denney of Jupiter, he took a measured approach into Monday’s 36-hole marathon.
“I came out here with no expectations,” he said. “The one thing I’ve been working on is to commit to a full shot, and I did that. The ball didn’t go as planned the second round, (and) I had a lot of three-putts. But I learned a lot. I kept my composure. I’ll build off it. This isn’t the last of me.”
Pope no doubt had the same resolve after coming up short in his six previous Sectional appearances. He knows it’s not unusual in golf for a player to be in his 30’s before he figures it out; Justin Hicks had to move from his native Michigan to Royal Palm Beach before earning his card at 37.
Pope had something of a revelation when he got in the Sea Island PGA Tour event last fall as a Monday qualifier. He made the cut and finished 63rd.
“It was a good experience, and part of it was when I got out on the putting green I knew half the guys,” he said. “It was ‘Hey, Andy, how are you?’ instead of me kind of being the outsider. I felt welcome … I’m ready to get up to the next level.” His first U.S. Open experience next week could be a big first step.
As for Ceravolo, he’ll keep banging the drum, playing the mini-tours and hoping to qualify for the Web.com Tour starting this October.
“I’m going to keep moving forward,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs, and so far there’s been many more ups than downs. And that’s good.”
– Brian Biggane