No player has had more eyes on him at this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur Championship than Chelso Barrett, the high school senior from nearby Keene who was runner-up at last year’s championship at Gold Mountain in Bremerton, Wash. Friends and family followed his every shot for two days. Area newspaper reporters sought out interviews. And Barrett conceded that he’d been thinking about this homecoming since last year’s championship concluded.
Maybe it was too much pressure.
Barrett stumbled home on Tuesday with a four-over par 76 at The Golf Club of New England, leaving him at 10-over 154 and heading home before the beginning of match play.
"I tried to block out (the attention) the best I could," Barrett said. "But nothing really happened. I never really had any momentum from the beginning yesterday and didn’t have any today, either. It was a flat three days. Just not my best golf."
His fate was sealed at the 413-yard 16th hole when his drive landed in thick fescue at the side of a bunker. When I saw that, I sort of thought, ‘This sums up my two days,’ he said.
With one more birdie seemingly needed to qualify for match play, he was unable to do anything but hack the ball back onto the fairway. He then flew the green and left his chip shot short, leading to a triple-bogey 7.
"I pulled my drive a little bit and thought it would be fine. It wound up in the fescue and I made a mess of the hole from there," he said.
Not much went right for two days. Barrett opened on Monday with bogeys on two of his first five holes after teeing off on No. 10, and then recorded a triple on the seventh hole (his 16th) to come home in 40 and finish with 78. He didn’t make his first birdie until the third hole on Tuesday, but followed it up with bogeys at 4 and 6.
Fortunately, he won’t have much time to dwell on his disappointment. He plays in a U.S. Amateur qualifier next week, and then heads to Fort Wayne, Ind., for the Junior PGA Championship. He has verbally committed to attend Texas Christian University in Fort Worth in fall 2013, after his senior year at Keene High.
"I can learn from this," he said. "I’ll learn not to get too discouraged and to focus a little bit harder. Golf is a long process. You’ve got to learn from everything."
Rob Duca is a New England-based freelance writer who is assisting USGA.org this week at the U.S. Junior Amateur.