Amateur Spotlight: Mid-Amateur Champ Womack Ready

Reinstated Amateur Finally Finds Masters Dream Come Into Focus

April 4, 2007

  • Kelly, U.S. Amateur Runner-up, Soaking Up Masters Experience


  • By Stuart Hall

    As a young boy growing up in McDonough, Ga. , Dave Womack coddled the thought of one day becoming a professional golfer and playing in the Masters, conducted just a 120-mile ride up the rode in Augusta .

    Well, Womack, 28, became a professional golfer and this week he will play in his first Masters.

    Yet Womack's circuitous route to Augusta National has him in the field not as a professional, but as an amateur after winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title at Forest Highlands Golf Club in Flagstaff, Ariz. , in September. He joins U.S. Amateur finalists John Kelly and Richie Ramsay , British Amateur champion Julien Gerrier and U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Casey Watabu among the five amateurs in the 2007 field.

    "It's weird sometimes how things work out," said Womack. "If I wouldn't have gotten my amateur status back, I wouldn't be in the Masters right now."

    Dave Womack, seen during last year's U.S. Mid-Amateur, became a reinstated amateur in 2003. (USGA Photo Archives)

    After playing collegiately at Georgia State in Atlanta , Womack set out to fulfill his professional golf dreams.

    "When I was a mini-tour pro, the goal was to do the best that I could do, get into Q-School and try and get on the PGA Tour," said Womack, who never made it past the Hooters Tour.

    It is not that Womack did not possess talent. It's just that he kept wondering if he was making the right career choice. Hmm, chase fame and fortune or settle down and establish roots in a community he had been born and raised?

    "Something just told me to get my amateur status back," said Womack. "I love competing, but I'm pretty much a homebody and like sleeping in my own bed and knowing I can come to work on Monday and make a living."

    So in 2003, after getting married, buying a house and becoming an insurance agent, Womack applied for and was granted his amateur status again. Womack has long been at peace with his decision and now is coming into his own as an elite amateur competitor.

    A two-time winner of the Georgia Public Links Championship (2003 and 2005), Womack's 2006 season earned him the Georgia State Golf Association's Tommy Barnes Award for overall player of the year. He posted three top-10 finishes in GSCA events, including a tie for second at the Georgia Mid-Amateur Championship.

    And then came September.

    "I had been playing really well, so I just went to the Mid-Am with the mindset to enjoy myself and get the most out of the week," said Womack, who shot 74-70-144 to get into the match-play portion for the first time in a USGA event. "After I won my first-round match, my game just kept improving and with each win, I just kept telling myself, 'I can win this thing.' "

    Though Womack was in a state of disbelief to have actually made the championship final against fellow Georgian Ryan Hybl, he kept telling himself to keep "staying in the moment."

    And when Womack sank a 5-foot par putt to defeat Hybl, 1 up, in the 36-hole final, the moment was his. The young man from McDonough was earning an invitation to Augusta via Arizona .

    "Five years from now we'll be sitting around a bar or at a restaurant and be saying, 'You remember that time at Augusta on such-and-such hole you did this .,' " said Womack. "Those are the type of little things that is going to make it special.

    "I'm just going to try and take advantage of everything, get the most out of it, so that when I do reflect back on it, I can honestly say we did everything we could possibly do to enjoy ourselves."

    Womack, whose own Masters memories began with Nick Faldo winning in 1989, made eight preparatory trips to the fabled Augusta acreage. Each time he learned more about the subtle nuances of the course, which will play 7,445 yards and suits Womack's long-hitting game. He has learned to be aware of where Rae's Creek is at all times as the green's grass grain bends toward the creek. He also stuck a hybrid club in his bag just for the 240-yard, par-3 fourth hole.

    He played nine holes with 1973 champion Tommy Aaron , and then scored a round with former Georgia Tech standout Stewart Cink , J.J. Henry and Steve Stricker .

    "I really don't know how to prepare for it because I've never played in one before," said Womack, whose main goal is to make the cut and earn low amateur. Since 1989 when the Masters began inviting the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, no Mid-Amateur winner has ever made the cut, with Nathan Smith nearly achieving the feat in 2004.

    More than anything, Womack just wants to soak up the experience.

    He has rented a house for his family and friends but will stay in the famous Crow's Nest atop the clubhouse a few nights. His cousin, Walt Lee , will be on his bag, fulfilling a childhood pledge that whoever qualified first, the other would serve as caddie. His 7-year-old cousin will carry his bag in the Par-3 Tournament. His grandfather, 91-year-old L.P. McKibben, who introduced Womack to the game at age 8, will attend the opening round, but then retire to the comfort of home and his 61-inch widescreen television, which he purchased just for the week.

    Womack played with Cink again on Sunday, and Augusta native Charles Howell III on Monday. Interview requests have been frequent, and "I just hope I get a chance to do it again some day," he said.

    If Womack has one regret it will be that his older brother Brian will not be in attendance. Brian, seven years Womack's elder, died in a car accident in 1996. Along with his grandfather, Womack credits Brian, a 2-handicapper, with developing his game.

    "We're such a close-knit family and we're all going to share this week, and I know he would have loved to have been a part of this," said Womack. "He was always bragging on me and letting people know how I was doing."

    Womack appears to be doing just fine these days.

    Second Cut: Last August, Billy Horschel and Webb Simpson were two prominent storylines at the U.S. Amateur. Horschel, who plays at the University of Florida , opened stroke play with a USGA-record score of 60 at the Chaska (Minn.) Town Course. Simpson, who plays at Wake Forest , advanced to the semifinals before falling to eventual winner Ramsay.

    On Sunday, the two were the headliners at the Azalea Amateur at the Country Club of Charleston (S.C.). Simpson closed with a final-round 68 to tie Horschel at 6-under-par 278 after 72 holes.

    The pair parred the first playoff hole and then Simpson, with an awkward stance in a fairway bunker, knocked a 9-iron approach from 120 yards to 3 feet. Simpson tapped in for birdie and won for the first time since the Sunnehanna Amateur in June. .

    In a showdown between the reigning U.S. and British Amateur champions, Ramsay defeated Guerrier of France, 2 and 1, in the Georgia Cup on March 28. The annual event pairs the two amateur champions at the Golf Club of Georgia as a prelude to the Masters.

    "I just managed to hit fairways and greens like I usually do," said Ramsay, who became the first Scottish player to win the U.S. Amateur since 1898. "At the end of the day a win is a win. I'm just happy to put my name on that trophy."

    Stuart Hallis a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usga.org.

       
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