By Mike London
SALISBURY — Nick Lyerly is grateful that his chosen sport is one that’s still normal in a socially distant world.
Well, almost normal. There have been changes. There are extra rules and added precautions, but golf still provides fresh air, exercise and peace of mind in troubling times.
“I play golf every day — there’s really nothing else to do,” Lyerly said. “But even before all this happened, I played almost every day.”
“All this” is COVID-19. The shutdown of college sports interrupted Lyerly’s outstanding career at UNC Greensboro. He’s wrapping up his junior year from home with online classes.
As a freshman for the Spartans, the East Rowan graduate took first place in the Southern Conference Tournament with rounds of 73-70-69 — 212 and was named the league’s freshman of the year.
As a sophomore, he produced the team’s lowest stroke average (71.55). He won a tournament and nearly repeated as conference tournament champion. He lost in a playoff. An excellent student, he took home the Pinnacle Award that goes to the player with the highest cumulative GPA on the championship team.
In both of those years, Lyerly was part of strong Southern Conference championship teams that traveled to NCAA regional competition.
College golf includes fall and spring seasons. Lyerly won a tournament to close the fall portion of his junior year in late October, shooting 69-73-71— 213 to win by three strokes.
His spring started well, 10-under and a tie for fourth in Florida in February. But he shot 1-over in the only round of a rain-shortened tournament in Puerto Rico before tying for 21st in what turned out to be the final tournament of his junior year. That was back on March 10.
UNCG’s last two regular-season events (one was at The Club at Irish Creek) were canceled, along with the Southern Conference Championships. The 2020 Southern Conference tournament was scheduled to take place today.
“Golf is considered a college spring sport, but we got to play more tournaments in the fall,” Lyerly said. “I wasn’t having my best spring. I just wasn’t as sharp and my irons weren’t as accurate as they usually are. I think I would’ve gotten on track, but then everything was canceled.”
So he’s back home. He’s disciplined and finds the motivation to take care of his classes online.
“It’s different, but I’m still getting the school work done,” Lyerly said. “The one advantage is that now I can pick the time.”
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that he has the opportunity now to work a couple of days a week at Corbin Hills Golf Club.
He plays golf occasionally at Warrior in China Grove, but mostly he’s on the course at Corbin Hills. He shot 3-under 69 Friday at Corbin, although he’s good enough that 3-under wasn’t all that satisfying.
“It was a solid enough round, I guess,” he said. “I putt everything out, try to make it as close to a tournament atmosphere as I can, but I really miss the competition. I’m a very competitive person, maybe too competitive, in everything that I do. I can still play golf now, but it’s different. I miss playing against really good players in tournaments.”
Lyerly’s career away from college arguably has been even more remarkable than what he’s accomplished so far at UNC Greensboro.
He won the 3A NCHSAA championship in 2015, shooting 67 at Longleaf. In the 2016 North Carolina Amateur, he became the youngest champion in tournament history. He was a two-time Junior Player of the Year by the Tarheel Youth Golf Association and the Carolinas Golf Association. He won the Eastern Amateur in 2018, leading wire-to- wire and cruising by five shots. He played 62 holes in that event before he made his first bogey.
Locally, he won the Rowan Amateur and Rowan Masters last summer, in a span of a few weeks.
In other words, he’s really good in tournaments. But in an uncertain world, exactly when his next tournament will take place is up in the air.