My first memory of the Masters is Tiger Woods’ victory in 1997. Now I get to compete in the tournament for the first time. I can’t wait. To participate as the U.S. Amateur champion will make the experience even more special.
I earned my Masters invitation the day before winning last year’s U.S. Amateur, after beating UCLA’s Patrick Cantlay in the semifinals. Both U.S. Amateur finalists are invited by Augusta National to compete in the Masters. After winning my semifinal match, I turned to my caddie, Oklahoma State assistant coach Alan Bratton, and said, “How do you feel about caddying in April?” He started pointing at my chest and said, “We didn’t come this far to lose the final match, so we’re going to get it done tomorrow. Then we can start thinking about April.”
Winning the U.S. Amateur was the biggest moment of my golf career. Being the Amateur champion has a special perk at Augusta National: a pairing with the defending Masters champion. I’ve never played with Phil Mickelson before. I’m excited to play with him, and in front of so many people.
I played my first practice round at Augusta National last October. Driving down Magnolia Lane for the first time was spectacular. I was surprised by how thick and dense it was through there. It was like driving through a tunnel.
TV really doesn’t show how amazing the course actually is. You really have to see it in person to be able to see how spectacular it is. And I didn’t realize how hilly it was. That hill up to the 18th green is steep, and the ball is really above your feet on 13.
I made three trips to Augusta National to play practice rounds. It even snowed during one trip. They say the course plays completely different during the Masters – much firmer and faster – but those trips helped me get familiar with the grounds and learn what lines to take off of the tees. I feel like I’m as prepared as I can be.
The last week or so, the Masters has really started to cross my mind. I’ve been hitting some shots that I could need for the tournament. I’m going to arrive in Augusta the Friday before tournament week. I’ll probably play nine holes each of the following two days, then play 18 holes on Monday and Tuesday so I can get used to the large crowds.
Monday is going to be an all-Oklahoma State group, probably with me, Rickie Fowler, Hunter Mahan and Bo Van Pelt. My Oklahoma State teammates are competing in Augusta State’s tournament this weekend, and every team in the field gets tickets for the Monday practice round. Rickie and I are going to play together in the Par-3 Contest, too.
It’d be great to make the cut and be low amateur, but I’m just going to have fun and enjoy the experience. It’s not every day that you get to play in the Masters as an amateur.
Editors Note: The other amateur players scheduled to play in this week's Masters Tournament include: David Chung (US Amateur runner-up), United States of America; Jin Jeong (current British Amateur champion), Korea; Lion Kim (US Amateur Public Links champion), United States of America; Hideki Matsuyama (Asian Amateur champion), Japan; Nathan Smith (US Mid-Amateur Champion), United States of America.