Virginia’s McCarthy an inch from history with his 10-under 60; More UVA golfers shine

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Photo: CT Insider

Denny McCarthy would be the first to say he’s close to making a breakthrough on the PGA Tour. In Thursday’s opening round of the Travelers Championship event, he was inches close from tour history.

The former Virginia All-American posted a 10-under par 60 at TPC River Highlands for a two-shot lead in the event, which features a $200 million purse. McCarthy, who has come oh so close, but never won a PGA Tour event, put himself in contention. He didn’t expect he would come so close to making history.

After being inches short of a birdie on No. 8 (his 17th hole), and having commentators thinking 58 or 59 on the same course where Jim Furyk shot a 58 in 2016, McCarthy nearly holed out on the par-4 ninth hole. McCarthy’s approach shot from 169 yards (see accompanying video below to see just how close) missed going in the hole by an inch.

“Yeah, I had 170 to the hole and the wind was supposed to be a puff in from the right and I wasn’t feeling much,” McCarthy said about his approach shot. “I had been hitting a nice little cutty shot all day with mid-irons, so I just gripped down on a 7-iron and I was trying to cut it in there, and just leaked it a little, saw it kick, and couldn’t see the rest.

“We were just going off the crowd’s reaction at that point. Obviously it came pretty close to going in. In the air, I wasn’t expecting it to be anywhere close to going in, but obviously it was exciting that it had a chance.”

McCarthy said he felt good when he arrived at the course and felt that way all day long, especially playing in the afternoon and having noted the low scores already put up by Keegan Bradley (62) and others.

“[The course] was gettable,” the former Wahoo said. “We’ve played some hard golf courses the last few weeks. My last two events have been the U.S. Open and Memorial, so coming into a place that doesn’t quite beat you up as much, it’s a little bit of a mindset change.

“It was nice to know from the start that it was gettable. The back nine here is one of my favorite nine holes on Tour. It’s very risk-reward. If you’re playing well you can shoot 5- or 6-under, but if you’re not playing well, it can beat you up.”

McCarthy fired a 30-30–60.

More on McCarthy in a minute, but Virginia rising sophomore star Ben James is playing in the event for the second straight year. James stands at 1-over par and will likely need to post red numbers in Friday’s second round to make the cut.

Elsewhere, former UVA golfers are faring well at this week’s Korn Ferry Tour event, the Compliance Solutions Championship in Norman, Okla.

Two-time ACC champion Thomas Walsh is tied for third place at 7-under 65, while Ben Kohles is a stroke back at 66 (tied for sixth), and Jimmy Stanger is at 67 (tied for 15th). Walsh is only one stroke back of the lead.

McCarthy flirted with scoring his first Tour win at Memorial, losing in a playoff, and has been in the mix a few times on Sunday this year. Since the Memorial, he has focused on one thing.

“Ball striking,” McCarthy said. “Ball striking is just slowly creeping along. Driving of the ball has been pretty good. Just trying to find ways to get better. Sometimes that’s just mentally.”

The 30-year-old is known as the best putter on the PGA Tour.

Coming so close at Jack’s tournament gave McCarthy some idea of what is within his grasp.

“I don’t feel like I gave that tournament away really. I don’t know how many holes I didn’t make a bogey for, 27, 30-ish holes at that place, and that’s pretty darn good. It sucked that I bogeyed the last hole and bogeyed again in the playoff, but I did a lot of good things down the stretch and I felt really comfortable in that position. There was some nerves and adrenaline, but I didn’t feel shaky.

“Just kind of felt like I belong in that situation, so I’m hungry to get right back.”

Meanwhile, James has his work cut out for him playing before family and friends in his home state of Connecticut. He’s coming off a strong season at Virginia and has gained respect and recognition across the country as college golf’s top freshman.

“It was a great year in school,” James said. “I thank my coaches, thank my teachers, thank the athletic staff. They did a great job of helping me get where I wanted to be.

“I think I grew more as a person than a player. Maybe just a little smarter. Willing to take medicine. Willing to not get frustrated.”

James was delighted to have so much support in the gallery, but didn’t like his performance.

“It was a hard day just because I was everywhere, but I was really happy with the way I fought through and persevered. At the beginning of the event, that’s one of the goals. Hopefully I’ll play a little better (Friday).”