When Clark Palmer won his first collegiate tournament on Sunday for North Carolina, one of the first text messages of congratulations came from longtime friend Dykes Harbin.
“He said he didn’t want me to one-up him,” Palmer said. “I’m sure he had a little extra motivation knowing that if I can do it he can do it.”
So two days later – after a little advice on the phone from Palmer on handling nerves – Harbin earned his first collegiate victory for South Carolina.
“I was really pumped up for Clark,” said Harbin, who shot an opening-round 66 at Berkeley Hills in Duluth, Ga,, the same day Palmer was the co-medalist at Duke University Golf Club. “But I wasn’t about to let him one-up me. Hopefully we can both carry this on when we get out of college in the professional ranks.”
The matching victories are just the latest example of how a crop of talented collegians from Augusta Country Club have been pushing each other to improve. Palmer (Richmond Academy) and Harbin (Westside) have been competing for years with peers such as Lee Knox (Augusta Prep/Alabama), Chase Parker (Westside/Kentucky) and Brian Carter (Lakeside/Georgia), and their games have progressed as a result.
“We have some competitive duels on a daily basis during the summer and travel a lot together,” Palmer said. “Beating each other up and giving each other a hard time on a constant basis definitely pushes each of us to try and take it to the next level.”
While Palmer often got the best of his mates in the junior ranks, Harbin and Knox jumped out quicker on the amateur level. Knox twice won the Georgia State Amateur in the last three years. Harbin’s victory in the Southeastern Amateur in Columbus, Ga., last June kick-started his hot start to his senior season with the Gamecocks.
“I worked hard all summer and got a big win at the Southeastern Amateur,” he said. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my golf game. Working on important stuff like short game and putting and it’s beginning to pay off. I’ve been playing really well. It’s been fun.”
Voted captain by his teammates before the fall season, Harbin has taken well to the leadership role. In three fall events, he’s paced the Gamecocks each time with finishes of 14th, sixth and first.
“I felt like if I’m going to be the captain and senior leader I’ve got to step up my game,” Harbin said. “Everyone looks up to me and I’ve got to set a good example. This is my last year so it’s time to step it up and maybe do something special and get this team going in the right direction.”
Palmer is doing the same thing at North Carolina – where both his father and brother played golf. He’s leading the Tar Heels with a scoring average of 71.50 this fall. The catalyst for his improved production has been the coaching of noted sports psychologist Dr. Richard Coop.
“All of us have the physical ability to be great professional golfers, but when it comes down to the mental toughness is where a lot of people either shine or fall in the cracks,” Palmer said. “That’s what’s really spurred me on and given me the confidence. I have the God-given talent, but that’s what’s been lacking.”
Coop teaches Palmer to focus on the process instead of the result, and the results have followed. His mental strength helped him battle “a little nerves running down the stretch” to post three consecutive sub-par rounds to win.
Palmer hopes that success will carry over into the championship season.
“When the spring come around and it gets a little bit more tense and more pressure I’ll be familiar with that position and be able to handle it a little better,” he said.
Likewise, Harbin hopes to sustain his good form through the nearly four-month layoff before the spring season starts.
“It was huge to get that one (victory) in and will help me as we go forward,” Harbin said. “I’m really looking forward to the rest of the year. Hopefully all-America and all-SEC are definitely in reach if I continue my good play. It’s a long break and kind of hard in the winter to keep your mind focused on golf. I want to stay focused and keep an eye on the prize and be ready to go when spring comes around.”
Part of that process will include getting together with all their mates at Augusta Country Club during the holiday breaks.
“We all keep in touch and all push each other to do well and all excited for each other when we do do well,” Harbin said.
While Palmer still has a year of eligibility left at North Carolina, he will graduate on time this spring and plans to join his longtime friends as they pursue pro careers after the amateur season ends in August.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for me to hang around,” Palmer said. “Plus Dykes, Lee and Chase are all graduating so it will be fun to do everything together – travelling and playing like we did growing up.”