Augusta, Ga. – One of the best moments of the 75th Masters Tournament came early in the second round on Friday when Nathan Smith and former USA Walker Cup teammate Peter Uihlein shared the same fairway and a hug.
The two amateurs found themselves together on the first hole at Augusta National Golf Club through the combination of great timing and a bit of bad golf luck.
Uihlein had just teed off with defending Masters champion Phil Mickelson and 2006 U.S. Open winner Geoff Ogilvy. Smith, meanwhile, was playing the ninth hole, and he was stymied behind a tree after hooking his drive into a grove of pines. His only shot was a punch out into the first fairway. He got to his ball just as Mickelson, a huge gallery in tow, was approaching.
“It got a little chaotic there,” Smith said with a laugh. “I hooked a drive a little bit and, of course, it's right up against a tree like somebody just like placed it there. And I couldn't get to it to pitch it back out to the green that way, so I got to come out to one. Of course, right place, right time. Here comes Phil Mickelson coming off the first tee. Exactly what you want to have going on. Here comes the world, here comes Phil over the hill.”
The three-time Masters winner couldn’t resist a barb.
“He was making fun of me,” said Smith said. "I think he asked me if that was my drive; I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
But then Uihlein came along. “Yeah, we hugged real quick there. He loves me. I love him,” Smith said. “But I was just trying to make a five there and get out of there.”
Right, at some point, it’s time to concentrate on golf, and at the Masters, the challenges never abate, especially for the amateur contingent.
As it turns out, an amateur is playing the final two rounds of the Masters for the second straight year. But it just won’t be any of the four Americans who qualified via USGA championships.
The sole survivor is Asian Amateur champion Hideki Matsuyama, who shot a 1-over-par 73 Friday and made the cut on the number at 1-over 145.
“I think that it's a very difficult course, but I'm so happy that I was able to focus on my playing each hole,” Matsuyama, 19 of Ehime, Japan, said through an interpreter. “I think I’m doing much better than expected. I’m very happy.”
Meanwhile, the four American amateurs all had their highlights, but there just weren’t enough to play the weekend.
As it turns out, U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Lion Kim made the strongest run by shooting even-par 72 in the second round for a 36-hole total of 4-over 148. Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champion, lacked the same steadiness he showed in a first-round 72, playing his final five holes in three over for a 5-over 77 and 149. U.S. Amateur runner-up David Chung also opened with a 72, but a 76 Friday left him three shy of the cut at 148.
British Amateur champion Jin Jeong came in with 77-150.
Smith, 32, of Pittsburgh, who was playing in his third Masters, added a 77 to his first-round 75 for a 152 total. He has yet to make the cut at Augusta, but hopes for yet another shot via the U.S. Mid-Amateur title that he has won the last two years and which earned him his first berth in 2004, where a double-bogey 6 at No. 18 left him one stroke off the cut.
“Well, I don't know, how many times you can hit the lottery,” said Smith, who also planned to hang around Augusta National through the weekend as a spectator. “I've been really fortunate and I enjoyed all of my times and I tried like heck to make the cut, but it gets tougher and tougher each year with these guys.”
Chung said he was grateful to just be a part of the amateur tradition at the Masters, and he planned to stay around for the weekend.
“I fought my butt off today,” said Chung, 21, a Stanford University junior. “When you're in the moment, it's hard to realize where you are, but once you're out of it you look back and you say, ‘Wow, that really was a big moment and I'm really thankful to be a part of it and it was just surreal that I was part of it.’”
Kim, 22, who graduates in June from the University of Michigan, played both days with current Ryder Cup captains Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal.
“It's amazing just to walk 36 holes with Davis Love III and Jose Maria Olazabal; me competing as an amateur, it doesn't get any better,” said Kim, who resides in Lake Mary, Fla., but was born in Korea. “Those two are clearly some of the best players in the game of golf, and again it was just fun for me to just play alongside them.”
Likewise, Uihlein, a junior at Oklahoma State University, enjoyed a popular pairing with Mickelson and Ogilvy, and he said he learned a lot, mostly about his game.
“I was hoping to make the cut and [I] didn't do that, didn't play well. And I didn't hit my irons very good so it was tough to score when you're not hitting your irons very good out here,” said the 21-year-old Uihlein. “I have a lot to work on, and it's good. I got some tournaments coming up and I got some things to work on.”
Asked if the Masters met his expectations, Uihlein said: “It exceeded them. It's an unbelievable place. This course is special, and there's nothing quite like it.”