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How Parker Bell went from unconfident freshman to U.S. Amateur semifinalist

CHERRY HILLS VILLAGE, Colo. — Parker Bell has come a long way in the last few months.

The rising sophomore at Florida was told he wasn’t qualifying for the Gators last event of the season. Coach J.C. Deacon wanted Parker to work on his game. He had qualified for only one event his freshman season, and the rest of it was a struggle.

“It was definitely very humbling,” Bell said. “But I kind of deserved it. Like I played bad — my spring was really, really disappointing.”

Bell went from being told he couldn’t qualify at the end of his freshman season to earning a spot in the 2023 U.S. Amateur semifinals, where he’ll face Alabama sophomore Nick Dunlap at 2 p.m. ET Saturday. Plenty has changed in the past few months, but it all started with the conversation with Deacon.

U.S. Amateur: Photos from Cherry Hills

“This summer I’ve played in some bigger events and put myself in positions where you’ve just got to step up there and hit it,” Bell said. “You can’t let the nerves get in the way.”

On Friday, Bell knocked off Ben James, the reigning Phil Mickelson Award winner at Virginia as the nation’s top freshman. James is ranked sixth in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Dunlap is ninth.

Bell? He’s 534th.

“I knew I had the game coming into this. I always felt like I was maybe a little bit overlooked before.”@GatorsGolf’s Parker Bell is riding momentum and confidence into the semifinals. #USAmateur

— USGA (@USGA) August 18, 2023

He qualified for one tournament in the fall, and he thought it would be the turning point of his season. However, it was the opposite.

“I was not ready,” Bell said. “Hadn’t played in a lot of big tournaments until then, and my nerves just got the best of me, and I guess ever since then, the rest of the season, it just never really got any better.”

After being told he wasn’t qualifying for Florida’s final tournament in the spring, Bell went to see his swing coach, Jeff Smith, in Tennessee. They worked out the kinks of what was wrong. He watched as the Gators went to Grayhawk Golf Club in Arizona and won the national championship. That only added motivation.

Slowly but surely, Bell started to figure his game out. Although he hasn’t had a dominant summer, he wasn’t deterred.

Parker Bell watches his tee shot on hole three during the quarterfinals of the 2023 U.S. Amateur at Cherry Hills C.C. in Cherry Hills Village, Colo. on Friday, Aug. 18, 2023. (Kathryn Riley/USGA)

“I knew I had the game coming into this,” Bell said. “I always felt like I was maybe a little bit overlooked before going into this tournament. I knew I had the game to make the match play. That was my goal going in was just get to the match play because I know that anything can happen.

“It’s always been something that’s held me back. It’s been either the putter or I make a double here or a double there. I’m glad this week it’s kind of all come together.”

Bell led 2 up with three to play Friday against James, and the latter fought back in a big way. James drained two long putts to win consecutive holes and tie the match heading to 18. Then, James had a 3-footer to win the match on 18 before it slid by.

“I really thought it was over,” Bell said. “He was steady all day putting. When he missed it, it felt like new life, and I’m sure he was pretty boggled by that.”

The duo marched to the first tee, where Bell striped a 5-wood and barely missed the green, but he got up and down for birdie, winning the hole for the second time Friday and punching his ticket to the semifinal.

He said the emotion when the birdie putt dropped was unlike anything he has ever felt.

“Just where I was 15 minutes before then, like head in my hands, thinking my tournament is over, to all of a sudden I have a chance to win tomorrow and play in the Masters,” Bell said. “Just a huge, huge emotion, and I kind of let it all out with the fist pump. But I had to.”

Regardless of Saturday’s result, it’s safe to say Bell won’t be worried about qualifiers anymore.

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