Kevin O'Connell (USGA photo)
By Garrett Johnston
Masters week is finally here for reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champ Kevin O’Connell. The anticipation and emotion of waiting for this week has sparked a wide range of emotions.
“Two or three months after my Mid-Am win, it felt like The Masters was so far away,” O’Connell said earlier this week, “but it really comes rapidly once we got within six weeks.”
And now that we’re here, the 30-year-old is thrilled for what’s ahead. He will tee off his first round Thursday at 8:52 a.m. alongside Shane Lowry and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir.
“One of the reasons that a lot of us Mid-Ams like to play here so much is it’s fun to see how our games stack up against the pros,” O’Connell said. “This week has been a combination of trying to take it all in, enjoy it and of course I would like to perform well.”
O’Connell has been lucky enough to come to the Masters as a patron six times in the past. He first saw the majestic fairways of Augusta in 1998, when his dad brought him for a Wednesday practice round and the Par-3 Contest.
“I remember seeing Mark O’Meara (that year’s champion) and Tiger Woods playing together in a practice round, and that was pretty neat,” O’Connell said.
What were his biggest impressions of the hallowed place?
“I was speechless when I first saw Amen Corner,” O’Connell said.
After winning the Mid-Am in September, he was given five chances to come to Augusta to practice.
“I’d never played the golf course before October, but to finally hit those shots is incredible.”
Dealing with the famed golf course, the biggest crowds he’s ever seen and the nerves that come with both is one thing, but there is another cause of nerves O’Connell is working hard to overcome.
“I don’t play a lot of golf with top 50-100 players in the world, and for me, being surrounded by bigger players is more the source of the nerves than the crowds out here.”
Thankfully he got to know Kevin Kisner and Michael Kim a little bit on Sunday after playing a practice round with them.
O’Connell estimates that a total of 14 friends and family will be on-hand watching, including his wife Michelle, who caddied for him during Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest.
“I’m excited, but a little nervous,” Michelle O’Connell said earlier in the week, “but it’s going to be fun.”
The same could be said of O’Connell’s week on the big course.
Garrett Johnston has covered golf for 10 years and reported from 25 majors. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnstonGarrett