June 08, 2019: Alex Ross had talked it over with his caddie. When the third round of the Dogwood Invitational began on Thursday afternoon – the second of a double-round day forced by impending weather – he just wanted to make the cut. Marc Mitchell, Ross’ bagman and lifelong golf buddy, suggested trying to birdie every hole.
“Let’s shoot 60,” Mitchell said over lunch.
Turns out, that was the course record at Druid Hills Golf Club, a hilly little gem tucked into a neighborhood near downtown Atlanta. Ross knows that because he asked the starter on the 10th tee, where he started his afternoon round.
“I don’t remember what I said after that,” Ross said.
Understandably, there were chunks missing from Ross’ memory of an afternoon 15-under 57. That’s a number unheard of in golf, let alone amateur golf.
Ross, who just finished his sophomore season at Davidson College, had opened this tournament with rounds of 75-73. He was middle-of-the-pack at best.
After he had joked about shooting the course record, Ross opened his afternoon round by missing the green on his approach into the par-4 10th. He chipped it in for birdie, then he made three more birdies. He eagled No. 14 to go 6 under.
“I’d say after I made the eagle putt, that was when I kind of knew something was up,” Ross said.
Druid Hills is a course that forces decision making – and accuracy. The par 5s are getable, though, and there are opportunities to score, depending on your confidence level.
Thus, Ross had a decision to make on the 16th tee. It’s a 352-yard par 4 that curls left with the green tucked over trees. Many players go for it despite the high risk. Ross was already 7 under by that point, but he pulled driver and landed on the green for the third time this week. The hole just fits his eye, Ross said – that, and he just put a new TaylorMade M5 driver in the bag last week.
Ross could feel the pressure after that, but even after turning in 9-under 27, he kept rolling with birdies at Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 5.
Mitchell, a collegiate golfer himself at Denison College, had all but stopped giving advice at that point. He has carried Ross’ bag a few times before but was a last-minute – albeit enthusiastic – add for the Dogwood.
“I always try to stay calm myself so he has someone to be calm with,” Mitchell said of his role on Thursday afternoon. “When you’re 13 under, there’s not much calm you can be. He was reading every shot right, he was hitting every shot correctly, so on the greens I wasn’t doing anything.”
Ross missed a 10-footer for eagle on No. 7, a par 5, after hitting a 7-iron in from 188 yards – into the wind. It is not Ross’s usual selection from that distance.
“My caddie was trying to give me all these numbers – what it is to cover, how far you want to fly it, I was like, ‘Look, I can’t focus on that right now. I’m just going to hit 7-iron and swing it hard.’”
After hitting the green on the par-3 eighth, Ross blew his uphill 30-footer past the hole by 3 feet. With members starting to collect on a hillside behind the hole, the comebacker was perhaps the most nerve-wracking of the day. Mitchell called it Ross’ best shot.
Ross made it. He went to the ninth tee at 14 under.
With one last birdie on No. 9 (he had an eagle putt from the front of the green there), Ross shattered the standing Dogwood course record of 60, which had been held by Webb Simpson. His 57 matches the score that Bobby Wyatt, a former Alabama player, posted in the 2010 Alabama Boys Junior.
Ross struggled to process it after signing his scorecard. He’s gotten hot in smaller stretches – even shooting 28 on nine holes once at his local muni, the Golf Course at Chastain Park in Atlanta. That round included a bogey.
Mitchell, however, says this is typical Ross and that potentially, he needed that punch in the gut that came courtesy of his not-so-stellar opening.
Get him down, Mitchell says, and he’ll come back to beat you.
“It’s annoying,” Mitchell said, albeit with a serious amount of respect.
“He’s this good at golf. He really is just this good.”
Dogwood officials grouped players into foursomes for Thursday’s double-tee, double-round day. It was impossible for the other three players in Ross’ group to ignore what was going on. Owen Burden, a Furman freshman who has played lots of rounds beside Ross, said he thinks he spent more time thinking about Ross’ game than his own. Burden had 76.
“He was talking about it, which was good. He was like, ‘I’m really nervous,’ which is understandable,” Burden said. “I feel like if you keep to yourself, it could be worse.”
Interestingly, Ross tried to qualify for the Dogwood a year ago, only to hit his closing tee shot into the driving range right of 18. He made bogey and missed qualifying by a shot.
There are some other highlights in his amateur career – a handful of runner-up finishes in Georgia State Golf Association events and a near-miss in the A-10 Conference Championship as a freshman – but nothing like this. After his 57, Ross had moved inside the top 10 through 54 holes.
He made the cut with five shots to spare.