After turning pro earlier this month, ex-Lipscomb golfer Dawson Armstrong got the chance to compete in the Nashville Golf Open as a sponsor exemption.
Colton Pouncy, USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee
A group of 50-60 spectators followed 22-year-old Dawson Armstrong around the Nashville Golf and Athletic Club Thursday afternoon, as the former Lipscomb standout made his professional debut at the 2018 Nashville Golf Open.
There were cheers when he birdied on the seventh hole, more than there were for country music artist Jake Owenwhom Armstrong was paired with for the day. And there was silence for his occasional mistakes, like his double bogey on the first hole of the round.
Overall, it was a solid day and first step in Armstrong’s career, playing in a Web.com tournament just 10 minutes from the house he grew up in, surrounded by people who’ve watched him get to this point.
“To get to come out here and be able to make a professional debut in front of friends and family, and to be able to play with some of the best players in golf, it’s really something special,” Armstrong said. “I’m ready for the task.”
Just a few months ago, none of this seemed like a possibility. He’d just finished up his senior year at Lipscomb University, where he became the most decorated golfer in school history. He’s a three-time Atlantic Sun Conference golfer of the year. His 71.20 career scoring average is the lowest mark in Lipscomb history. And he was ranked as the No. 16 amateur golfer in the world.
Armstrong knew a career in pro golf awaited him after graduation. He just didn’t know it would come this soon.
In the past few months, Armstrong faced one of the biggest decisions of his young life. His Lipscomb team failed to qualify for the NCAA regionals, meaning the team’s season was over. But Armstrong’s wasn’t. He had individually qualified for the NCAA regional in Raleigh, N.C.
Armstrong won last year’s regional, and finished tied for 16th at the 2017 NCAA Men’s Golf Championships. This year, he was considered one of the favorites to win the whole thing, until the Snedeker Foundation extended an invitation to Armstrong that allowed him to compete in the 2018 Nashville Golf Open as a sponsor exemption.
It left him with a difficult choice: Try to make a run at an individual NCAA championship in his final run as a senior, or leave the program early and begin his professional career in his hometown.
Armstrong talked it over with his parents, Dale and Vivian, and Lipscomb’s Director of Golf Will Brewer. Had Lipscomb’s team qualified for NCAA regionals, Armstrong said he would’ve competed alongside his teammates. But because he was the lone participant, it made the decision a bit more difficult.
Finally, on May 8, Armstrong announced he’d be turning pro.
“This is what he wants to do for his career, and it’s what he’s been building to for so many years now,” Brewer said of Armstrong’s decision. “You can’t pass on these opportunities when it’s given to you on a platter.”
Armstrong began his pro career shooting a 70 in Thursday’s first round. He found himself tied for 41st at 2-under heading into Friday’s second round, which was delayed by weather.
But no matter how he finishes, his family is just happy they get to see him play in a tournament like this.
“It’s humbling that the Brandt Snedeker Foundation picked Dawson to have this exemption,” said Dale Armstrong, a former Lipscomb golfer. “There are a lot of guys that could be here instead, so it’s just an honor.”
After this weekend’s tournament, Dawson will head to Canada to participate in the Mackenzie Tour, which he qualified for in March.
He’ll receive fully exempt status for all 14 stops across Canada on the 2018 schedule, and if he’s the top finisher on the Mackenzie Tour at the end of the season, he’ll earn an exemption for the full 2019 Web.com Tour.
His career is excelling at a rapid pace. But for now, playing in his hometown, he’s trying his best to take it all in.
“I was looking at the scorecard a few minutes ago,” Armstrong said shortly after his round Thursday. “I was thinking… this is my first PGA Tour sanctioned round as a professional. To shoot a 70 on a fairly tough golf course was a big moment for me.”
Reach Colton Pouncy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CTPSports.