USC Aiken coach hasn't lost drive to compete

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AIKEN --- Michael Carlisle isn't happy with his game.

The USC Aiken golf coach is playing in his first tournament since a health scare with Group A strep pneumonia last year.  Special
Special
The USC Aiken golf coach is playing in his first tournament since a health scare with Group A strep pneumonia last year.

That's a good thing. The three-time Palmetto Amateur champion hasn't lost his fire after nearly losing his life 16 months ago.

With his second-round, 5-over-par 75 on an overcast Thursday afternoon at Palmetto Golf Club, the USC Aiken golf coach fell further off the pace set by Josh Gallman.

"It's just like it was before; I'm not any good at it," Carlisle said. "I'd like to play better."

Carlisle is 11 shots behind Gall-man, who stands at 3-under-par 137 at the halfway point of the Palmetto Amateur. Gallman, who won the 2006 Southern Cross Junior Invitational at Palmetto, holds a one-shot lead after carding 70.

David Gies II (68), Bill Jones (69) and Hunter Slatton (71) are tied for second, while Scott Strohmeyer (69) is in fifth, two shots off the pace.

Carlisle, a longtime Palmetto member, is seeking to extend his stay in the event with a good showing today. He's tied for 54th place -- the top 60 and ties after today's third round advance to Saturday's final round.

Carlisle is playing in his first tournament since summer 2007. After playing a February 2008 round at Augusta National Golf Club, he didn't play again for 348 days.

Three days after playing Augusta National, Carlisle was taken to a hospital emergency room with flu-like symptoms. He was later diagnosed with Group A strep pneumonia.

When he went to the emergency room, Carlisle's kidneys already had shut down and his lungs were filled with fluid.

He lost 50 pounds during his seven-week hospital stay.

Three months after his illness, Carlisle said picking up a golf club was like lifting a sledgehammer. So he worked on his short game.

After two months of rehabilitation, Carlisle continued to build strength by walking, riding a bike and swimming.

"I finally got up enough strength to walk and carry my clubs," he said. "Last summer, I didn't have enough stamina to walk three holes."

Carlisle said his strength is now about 90 percent. He can still reach the par-5s at Palmetto in 2 with an iron.

In the second round, Carlisle got off to a bad start when he bogeyed the opening hole for the second consecutive day. He then bogeyed Nos. 5 and 6, a brutal two-hole stretch of long par-4 holes. Carlisle tacked on another bogey at the 180-yard, par-3 seventh.

"I'm just not hitting it real good," he said.

Carlisle, who runs the Augusta Area Junior Golf Association, still is getting his game back in order. This summer, he will try to qualify for the U.S. Amateur, the U.S. Mid-Amateur and the South Carolina Amateur.

In the meantime, Carlisle will continue to track his progress this week. At 51, he is twice as old as most of the participants and almost three times as old as a few.

"I love seeing them," he said. "I love seeing the golf course in great condition.

"I'm just glad to be playing golf. I hope to get better."

Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or chris.gay@augustachronicle.com.


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