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Despite his nerves, Alan Schulte is playing like a champion this week. (Photo: PGA of America)
Despite his nerves, Alan Schulte is playing like a champion this week. (Photo: PGA of America)

Keeping his nerves in check is job No. 1 for Schulte

Alan Schulte, who shares the third-round lead, is the rare athlete who freely admits when he's got a case of the butterflies. And if he wants to knock off defending champ Mike Small on Sunday, he knows he's got to keep the fluttering to a minimum.

By T.J. Auclair, Junior Editor

VERONA, N.Y. -- Honesty is, indeed, the best policy.

However, when it comes to admitting nervousness in pressure packed situations in high-level professional sports, athletes rarely if ever -- even when the world knows they're more scared than an ant in the shadow of an elephant's foot -- admit having a case of the butterflies.

As with all rules, there are exceptions. In primary school English class, you learned that "I" comes before "E" -- except after "C," of course.

On Saturday during the third round of the 39th PGA Professional National Championship at Atunyote Golf Club on the Turning Stone Resort Casino in central New York, we learned that a man who looks calmer than a breathe of wind can actually be nervous.

Alan Schulte, a 43-year-old from Fishers, Ind., by way of Cobleskill, N.Y., which is a round's worth of John Daly drives away from Verona, was holder of the 36-hole lead at 8-under 136.

Prior to his third round, Schulte, who stands over six feet tall and is extremely fit, freely told the Golf Channel's Donna Caponi that he was nervous, but happy because "I managed to keep my breakfast down."

Was it an attempt at reverse psychology, or was Schulte truly nervous? If he was, it sure didn't show, as he birdied three of the first four holes to go from "leader" to "commanding leader."

"It was the kind of start that really helps you get going," he said. "I was actually a little bit nervous this morning, so getting it going early helped me calm down and allowed me to play a little bit more aggressive the rest of the day."

The nerves finally showed up in the form of a "loose swing" for Schulte on the 13th hole, where he made a double-bogey, which he took in stride.

"I actually feel like I played better than I scored today," he said after his 1-under 70. "I hit one loose shot. I guess I kept adding yardage and laid off it too much and unfortunately it went in the water. It was just one bad swing, because I was really pleased with the rest of them."

While he was steady and didn't let the round slip away, Schulte still has plenty of work in front of him on Sunday. Heading into the final round on Sunday, he's tied for the lead at 9-under 207 with no less than defending champion Mike Small, who shot a 2-under 70.

Small is a kind man with ice in his veins. He has a killer instinct. In three trips to the National Championship, he's finished no worse than second. That's no Small feat.

A win on Sunday would make him the first player since Larry Gilbert in 1982 to win the title in consecutive years, and Small has himself in perfect position for that to happen.

"That's what you want. You want to be in a position tomorrow," he said. "We'll hope to have a good round tomorrow. But there's still a lot of guys in this tournament."

Playing not far from where he grew up, Schulte -- whose best finish at the National Championship in six previous appearances is a seventh in 2004 -- no doubt will have the support of the home crowd, which showed up in the dozens on Saturday. However, he knows Small won't be easy to beat.

"It should be fun," Schulte said. "He's a tough competitor and his record shows it. I know he'll be all business out there, but I'm just going to go out there and try and have a good time."

Keeping that breakfast down would be a good start.

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