Money Ball...Chester native drains $10,000 putt

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By Travis Jenkins

At Littlejohn Coliseum on Saturday, as Clemson battled Louisville in a pivotal ACC match-up, Chris Carns made the biggest and most impressive shot of the day, draining a length-of-the-floor, 94-footer.

Carns is not a basketball player and the shot he made actually didn’t involve a backboard or a net. The Chester native, a former Cyclones athlete and a senior accounting major, was in attendance for Saturday’s game to root on his beloved Tigers just as he always does.

“I try to go to as many games as I can. I support as many Clemson athletics teams as my schedule lets me,” Carns said.

With it being right near the end of winter break, many students had not yet returned to campus for the new semester, so the student section wasn’t quite as full as it might normally be. Carns said he was approached and asked if he’d like to participate in one of the interactive fan activities Clemson stages during timeouts.

“I didn’t sign up for it or anything. I guess I was sitting in the magic seat. I was randomly selected by Clemson event staff,” he said.

So, Carns left his seat and was taken to the tunnel to sign a waiver. He waited there with the Tiger mascot and stadium announcer/entertainer JDew. When the time came, he was brought onto the court. He was tasked with putting a golf ball the length of the court toward a cardboard cutout (bearing the name of Roto-Rooter) that had what he figures was a four-inch hole in the bottom (right below a picture of a sink drain). If he could knock the ball in the hole from 94-feet away, he would win $10,000. That would be a daunting task even for a professional golfer, which Carns decidedly is not.

“You could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve played organized golf. I play putt-putt when I go to the beach sometimes, but that’s about it,” Carns said.

He was not given the opportunity to take a practice swing in the tunnel as he waited, but really didn’t want one anyway. He said he didn’t want to think too much about what he was about to do or what was on the line, saying that was a recipe for something to go wrong. Really, he knew the odds of rolling a shot in from that distance were next to impossible and made even harder than a normal putt by the slickness, grooves and subtle bumps of a basketball court.

“My goal was that I just wanted to make sure I hit the sign,” he said. “I didn’t want to miss it completely and embarrass myself.”

He didn’t really try to line up his shot or even get in a standard swing away from the ball to loosen up. He just hit it. When he did, he got an odd feeling.

“I told myself once I hit it, ‘That felt good.’ For what little knowledge I have of golf, it felt like I hit it pretty good,” he said.

As the ball made it to midcourt, he said the Tiger squatted down to watch carefully and JDew’s voice boomed excitedly over the arena PA system in celebration. Even as the ball appeared to be tracking toward the hole, Carns still didn’t think it had a chance of going in. As it rolled within a few feet of the hole, he knew it had a chance. When the ball rolled cleanly into the tiny hole, the arena erupted as though the Tigers had won a game with a three-pointer at the buzzer. The Tiger grabbed Carns and the two started jumping up-and-down and JDew soon joined in. At first, he was really more celebrating the fact that he’d made the shot.

“The fact that I made the putt, that shocked me. Then it dawned on me that shot had made me $10,000,” Carns said.

Carns said he doubts he could make the shot again, even if he was given a 100 chances, but he made it the one time it really counted. Surprisingly, as he made his way back to his seat to watch the rest of what would turn out to be an overtime Clemson victory, no one even jokingly asked Carns to buy them any concessions. He said he just got a lot of congrats. It wasn’t until a few minutes later that the enormity of what he’d accomplished really hit Carns or the lightning speed at which information now travels. As he watched the game, he got an alert from ESPN on his phone.

“It was right at the end of regulation, so I thought maybe it was just something that said the Clemson game was going to overtime. I looked down and it said ‘Clemson student makes $10,000 shot.’ I got an ESPN alert about myself. That was the first thing that said to me that this was big-time, not just something that was big around Clemson,” he said.

His shot became one that was truly heard (or seen) around the world. It made ESPN’s Top 10 plays of the day, he saw his name and a video of his shot on the Twitter feeds of CNN and ABC News. “Golf Digest” posted the video on its website, as did USA Today and CBS Sports. Stories about Carns’ feat have appeared in print in both Italian and Spanish.

“That’s been kind of a new experience,” he said. “Seeing this side of things.”

As for how he’ll spend the money, Carns said he’ll definitely buy himself  “a celebratory gift” but otherwise, he plans to be responsible with his winnings, with plans to invest the money or spend it on graduate school.

Carns’ magical shot may not be his last. He said he purchased a starter set of clubs at Dick’s Sporting Goods two summers ago. He said he’s taken them to a driving range once or twice and that’s all, but that’s subject to change.

“I may start playing and put my newfound skills to use.”