Church Hill’s Carlson Cox, right, and Kingsport’s James Beckner each qualified for a USGA event, Cox for the U.S. Public Links tournament and Beckner for the U.S. Junior. (Ned Jilton II photo)
KINGSPORT — Not one, but two local golfers are stepping onto the national stage.
Church Hill’s Carlson Cox and Kingsport’s James Beckner both qualified for U.S. Golf Association events this summer.
Cox, a recent graduate of the University of Memphis, finished first in the recent U.S. Public Links qualifier at Harpeth Hills Golf Course in Nashville. He earned one of two spots available for the national event, which will be held July 15-20 at Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va.
The 16-year-old Beckner, a rising junior at Dobyns-Bennett High School, finished second at Old Fort in Murfreesboro in the qualifier for the U.S. Junior, which is scheduled for July 22-27 at Martis Camp in Truckee, Calif.
Cox, in his fourth attempt to qualify for a USGA event, shot rounds of 71-68 for a 139 total in a field of 44 players.
“I was close last year trying for the U.S. Amateur but faded in the second round,” Cox said. “I learned that you just have to be patient. You can’t get disgruntled with a bad shot or hole. You just have to keep grinding and finding ways to get the ball in the hole.”
To that end, Cox showed great perseverance at Harpeth Hills during his first round of play.
“I missed the first 12 greens,” he noted. “The only four greens I hit in that round I birdied.”
He still managed a 1-under 71 then came back strong in the afternoon for a 4-under 68 and the win.
A lesson learned when he tried to qualify for the PGA Tour’s St. Jude Classic in Memphis this spring served him well while in Nashville.
“It’s an eye-opener to play with the tour pros,” Cox said. “Those guys are playing to put food on their families’ tables. They focus so much better when they are over the ball. And one bad shot doesn’t matter.
“I learned that during a round you have to really fight and that at certain times you just have to hit golf shots to save your round,” he added. “My approach now is to go out every round and do the best I can. If that’s not good enough, then so be it.”
To qualify for the U.S. Junior, Beckner said he had an ace in the hole: local professional Euggie Jones as his caddie.
“Euggie deserves a lot of credit for what I accomplished at Old Fort,” Beckner said. “He gave me good yardage all day and he kept me very confident.”
With only three spots available from a field of 63 players at Old Fort, Beckner had his work cut out for him.
An opening 69 left him in second place after the morning round.
“I knew where I stood after the first 18 and was prepared to just grind it out in the afternoon round,” Beckner said. “Then I promptly hit a ball in the water on the par-5 10th hole.”
He made his drop and hit his approach onto the fringe.
“I wanted to chip the ball and Euggie convinced me to putt it,” Beckner noted. “I made that putt to save my par and that really kept me going.”
Now, Beckner has a tiger by the tail. A look online at the Martis Camp layout got his attention.
“The course is 7,600 yards,” Beckner said. “That seems very long to me.”
But qualifying for the U.S. Junior boosted his confidence.
“This has shown me that I can mentally withstand the grind,” Beckner said. “I’ve learned that coming down the stretch I can keep things going and finish strong.”
And how far can this newfound confidence take him in California?
“I’m not really sure what to expect,” Beckner said. “My goal will be to qualify for match play. After that, who knows what can happen.”