LITTLE ROCK — Two golf shots struck by Sebastian Cappelen deep in the final round of the Southeastern Conference tournament say plenty about his skill level and even more about what’s between his ears.
To do what he did on No. 16 and No. 18 with an individual title on the line requires self-discipline, something that was in question his first two years at Arkansas. When Cappelen arrived from Denmark, Arkansas coach Brad McMakin said, “he was kind of a wild card.”
Think Phil Mickelson’s go-for-everything approach. As a result, McMakin said, Cappelen “had some great rounds, but he had some poor rounds.”
His education included playing innumerable holes with UA assistant Barrett Lais in his ear, talking strategy, preaching that par can be a good thing, and that there is a time and place to attack the pin. “He has really changed the way he plays golf,” McMakin said.
The first time around, I missed the highlights of Cappelen’s impeccable round on the last day of the Southeastern Conference championship.
When a witness to Cappelen’s 66 in 30 miles per hour wind began reciting the details, I remembered that the Arkansas junior had hit every green in regulation, missed only two of 14 fairways, and didn’t make a bogey in his last 40 holes. Old news until the man with the details got to No. 16 at Seaside Golf Course on St. Simons Island, Ga.
Eighty yards from the pin after his tee shot, Cappelen chose 8-iron, probably a 160- to 170-yard club under normal circumstances. On a good day, my gap wedge goes 80 yards.
Cappelen played the ball back in his stance, probably swung 75 percent, and hit that under-the-wind shot that weekend hackers dream about. Rewarded with a 4-foot birdie putt, Cappelen converted to move into a tie with South Carolina’s Caleb Sturgeon, who started the day with a four-shot lead.
Coming off another birdie on No. 17, Cappelen had to know he was in position to win. On the tee box of the 470-yard downhill 18th, he had 2-iron in mind before consulting with McMakin. Sounds good, the coach said.
Tee shot in the fairway, second shot on the green, two putts, trophy time.
“The last two rounds at Sea Island, he kept the ball 20 feet to lower,” McMakin said. “He never got it up in the wind.”
Controlling trajectory is one thing; controlling emotions is another. Cappelen has made progress on both fronts. No longer does he get flustered when something goes awry. “He’s not letting a bogey turn into another bogey,” is the way McMakin put it.
Although Arkansas’ schedule is one of the 10 most difficult, Cappelen has finished outside the top 20 only a couple of times — a performance that probably has him penciled in for second team All-American.
Cappelen, his teammates, golfers from 13 other teams, including Texas and Oklahoma State, and five individuals will tee it up Thursday in the NCAA Regional at The Blessings, the Razorbacks’ home course. After 54 holes, the top five teams advance to the NCAA championship.
One of the neat things about watching a golf tournament is that there are no reserved seats and a prime spot can be secured with some planning and a bit of insider info. For the Regional, drive on Clear Creek Boulevard until you see golf. Apply brakes.
Close by is the 11th green, perched at the top of a ski slope of a fairway. Watch the approach shots to 11, walk across the street, and the players will be hitting short iron to the 14th. Nearby is the tee for the par three 15th and the par five 12th. So, too, the car and a restroom.
Although not a fan of the raucous doings on the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open, an occasional “Woo Pig Sooie” is encouraged.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau.