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  • By Stuart Hall

    Young golfers everywhere often fantasize about sinking the winning putt to win one of golf's coveted majors.


    Revving Up for the Masters

    USGA amateur champions 'excited' about Masters opportunity

    March 25, 2009

    Why not dream large?

    As a young golfer in Des Moines, Iowa, Jack Newman often dreamt of playing Augusta National during the Masters. Many a second Sunday in April was spent in front of the TV with his father, Bob, watching the year's first major play out.

    "I just always thought there was so much prestige put on that one, or maybe my family did," said the 21-year-old Newman, who, by virtue of winning the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, received one of the coveted amateur invitations to the 2009 Masters.

    When Bob Jones first conceived the Masters as an annual gathering of friends and family, it was with the thought that amateurs would always have a place among the professional golfers. The specific invite list to Augusta National has evolved over the years – Walker Cup players, for instance, were once regulars but no longer receive automatic invitations, while the champion of the Public Links, which dates to 1922, has been invited only since 1989.

    This year, Newman, a junior at Michigan State, will be joined at Augusta by reigning U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee of New Zealand; U.S. Amateur runner-up Drew Kittleson of Scottsdale, Ariz., U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Steve Wilson of Ocean Springs, Miss., and British Amateur champion Reinier Saxton of The Netherlands.

    Cason Hammock congratulates Jack Newman for his semifinal victory at the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. (John Mummert/USGA)
    Though he is the U.S. Amateur's youngest-ever champion (breaking a Tiger Woods record), Lee will enter the Masters with the most impressive resume of the bunch. Before winning the Amateur last summer by scorching not only his competition but also Pinehurst No. 2, he won the prestigious Western Amateur and finished tied for 20th in a PGA Tour event.

    This February he stunned the field at the Johnnie Walker Classic in Australia, becoming the youngest-ever (and only second amateur) winner of a PGA European Tour.

    And what of Augusta National? "It looks pretty hard," said Lee said of the course seen only on TV. "Just go there and hope to learn one of the hardest golf courses in the world."

    Wilson, a 38-year-old reinstated amateur who won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September, will be playing for not only the "career amateurs" he bested last fall, but also for his friends back home in southern Mississippi. They recently held a pep rally in his honor to raise funds for the Mississippi Golf Association, which plans to designate some of the money for his trip to Augusta, a place he has long relished to visit.

    Danny Lee, firing away during the 2008 U.S. Amateur, birdied 40 percent of the holes he played during the scheduled 36-hole final. (John Mummert/USGA)
    "I've never been there," said Wilson, but he does have his favorite Masters moment. "I've got two of them, and they're equal. Freddy [Couples] winning in '92. He's always been my favorite player. And Tiger in '97 when he blew everybody out."

    Newman's best memory of Augusta occurred the weekend before Thanksgiving, when he and his father traveled down to Georgia for a visit.

    "It was a great experience to go with my dad," said Newman, whose father introduced him to the game at age 5. "I was able to show him the Crow's Nest and the Champions Club and where they keep all the clubs of each past winner. He just couldn't believe we were at Augusta. It was pretty amazing. He walked around the entire course with a grin on his face."

    As the elder Newman walked, his youngest of four sons played  -- practice rounds being one of the perks afforded to those fortunate to receive an invitation into the Masters. Since then he has made three additional trips — each time taking a different brother — to Augusta. On each visit, Newman arrives on Thursday and plays between 36 and 72 holes before flying out on Sunday.

    "I will always have that awestruck feeling just for the simple reason that it's Augusta National," he said. "These past couple of trips I've been able to focus strictly on golf and trying to feel my way around the course. I wouldn't say trying to get the awe out of Augusta, but used to the fact that I'm actually going to be playing there."

    Each 18-hole tour of Augusta has been with club caddie Jay Jackson and chockfull of local knowledge to process. Newman's latest visit included oldest brother, Andy, who will serve as Newman's caddie for Masters week. Andy served as Jack's caddie at the APL as well.

    Steve Wilson will only have his memories of watching the Masters on TV. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)
    "[Andy] knows how to relax me, knows my game really well," said Newman. "I think we'll go out there and be a good combo. … We talk about anything and everything out there on the course. Anything but golf until the time comes to go through the process to hit the shot. And that he knows my game, how I hit the ball, what my limitations are and what I can do."

    Newman realizes that no amateur has ever won the Masters, and that conventional wisdom about expectations is to just hope to make the cut and finish as low amateur. Still …

    "I'm looking forward to walking up 18 and seeing the huge crowd, and hopefully walking up there on Friday knowing I have a chance to make the cut and compete," he said. "My main goal is to get up there on the leaderboard, and if I can do that, then I can make the cut."

    So why not just stay on the leaderboard?

    Newman likens Michigan State's green hue to "Masters Green." He admitted, though, that he does not own a sport coat of either shade.

    "Not yet," he said.

    Hey, it doesn't hurt to dream large. That's precisely what the five amateurs in this year's showing are doing.

    Ken Klavon also contributed.   

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