Soaking It All In

U.S. Amateur Runner-Up Kelly Relishing First Masters Experience

April 3, 2007

By Dan O'Neill

Augusta, Ga. - The actuality of John Kelly's Excellent Augusta Adventure began to sink in on Sunday night when he used the facilities, so to speak, at Augusta National Golf Club.

"You just think about who slept in your bed, who went to the bathroom in the same toilet … well, that's kind of gross, but you know what I mean," said Kelly of his first evening in the Crow's Nest. "You know your walking in the same footsteps of greatness. It's just really neat."

Be it personal hygiene or putting one foot in front of the other, the bunkhouse that sits atop the clubhouse at Augusta National is filled with history and ambiance, a place where legends like Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods snoozed in their first appearances at Augusta.

Kelly, 22, a senior at the University of Missouri, is staying in the Crow's Nest with three of the other four amateurs playing in the Masters: Richie Ramsay, the Scotsman who defeated Kelly in the U.S. Amateur final, U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Casey Watabu and U.S. Mid-Amateur champ Dave Womack. British Amateur champ Julien Guerrier, of France, made other arrangements.

John Kelly is hoping for another memorable week at the Masters like he had last August at the U.S. Amateur. (USGA Photo Archives)

Oddly enough, Kelly said he had no trouble sleeping in the imposing environment. "I was surprised, but I slept pretty well," he said. "I was really tired."

On Monday morning, Kelly had breakfast at the club and got another jolt to his senses. "I had my grits and bagels," said Kelly. "Then I looked over and there's Phil Mickelson grabbing a bite to eat. It was cool. Just so many things like that about being here, it's unbelievable."

Kelly played nine holes of a practice round with 2006 Ryder Cup member Vaughn Taylor on Monday. Taylor, an Augusta, Ga., native, quit after nine, but Kelly finished the round and nearly had a hole-in-one at No. 16. He was slated to play with two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw on Tuesday.

"I think it was good for him, actually, to play by himself," said Rob Sedorcek, a St. Louis teaching pro who is on hand to watch his protegé. "It gave him a chance to really practice some shots and gather his thoughts. If he can keep it straight, he should be fine. The guys with the measuring devices told me he had one of the longest shots all day at No. 14 and Nos. 17 and 18."

On one hand, the challenge for the St. Louis native this week is intimidating. No amateur has ever won the Masters, and few make the cut for the weekend. Since 2000, just eight of the 34 amateurs that have earned invitations at Augusta have stuck around for the weekend. On the other hand, Kelly can't lose.

"It's a little bit of both," he said. "The competitive side of me wants to play and beat the heck out of these guys. Then there is the other side that says, 'Hey, up to this point in my life, this is the coolest thing to ever happen to you.' So I want to make sure I take it all in and just enjoy the moment."

In addition to his parents and Sedorcek, Kelly's gallery includes Missouri golf coach Mark Leroux. Flooded with caddie offers, Kelly finally chose friend Barr Blanton to carry his bag this week. A former player at Wake Forest, Blanton lives in St. Louis.

"I had a lot of people to choose from," Kelly said. "But I've known Barr for a long time from playing golf and I think he'll be a big help. We're just going to go out and have a good time with it."

Dan O'Neill is a freelance writer whose work has appeared previously on www.usga.org.

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