This article was originally published on MiamiValleyGolf.org
Austin Greaser will play in the 2022 Masters (credit: goheels.com)
For most college kids, a weekend off-campus likely means a trip home to do laundry and gobble up some homemade meals.
For Austin Greaser
, a weekend away in early March means something very different. On a Thursday evening, Greaser hopped in his car and headed south from Chapel Hill, North Carolina to Augusta, Georgia. It was the second trip in as many weekends to Augusta National, the hallowed grounds that hosts The Masters every April, and Greaser has some work to do. After finishing runner-up in the 2021 U.S. Amateur, Greaser’s name is on the list for the most exclusive party in golf.
“It’s everything you ever dream of and more. It’s very surreal and almost feels like a video game,” Greaser said of walking onto the property for the first time. “I’ve watched it since I was a little kid. You already feel like you know the golf course so well, but everything seems a little bit greener, the air seems a little bit fresher, the ball flies a little bit better, I swear it does. It’s mesmerizing and surreal.”
“The eighteenth tee shot is like standing 100 yards from a field goal and trying to hit it right through. You can’t work the ball a ton; the shot has to be pretty straight. I’m looking forward to hitting that shot under some stress.”
Another highlight for amateurs in any major event is bringing along a caddie. Some, like Matt Kuchar in 1997 or Matt Parziale in 2018, bring their fathers along. Greaser’s looper for The Masters will be his UNC coach Andrew DiBitetto. Over his years at North Carolina, Greaser has bonded with his coach DiBitetto.
“He walks with me a lot during events. We’re almost like best friends now. He knows my game, and he’s someone I really trust. I’m going to roll with him that week.”
Over the fall, Greaser and the Tar Heels enjoyed a lot of success. The team won three of their four events, and Greaser made news, and went viral, when he holed out on the final hole of the Fighting Illini Invitational to win individual honors.
Now, as the spring season kicks into gear, Greaser is hoping to balance his college competitions while also preparing for The Masters, which will be the biggest event in his golfing life.
“I’ve been trying to find a happy medium, but also trying to peak that second week in April. I think from a physical standpoint, I’ve talked with my trainer and we have week-by-week plans of what I need to be doing and what I am doing,” Greaser said.
“From a golf standpoint, I am definitely trying to visualize and give myself situations that are like Augusta. On the range, I’m trying to finish each session going through a few holes and trying to prep my mind to have those shots and put a little pressure on myself if I can.”
Given the Tar Heels’ success and Greaser’s win in the fall. He has certainly found the right balance.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about Augusta, but at the same time, I’m trying to compete and win these college events at UNC also. It’s a little bit of both. I’m trying to pace myself and be ready to go that second week in April.”
In August, Oakmont was the scene of Greaser’s run to the finals of the U.S. Amateur. It’s another highly regarded, incredibly challenging course that has hosted professional majors over the years. However, Greaser doesn’t see much resemblance in the courses. They test players in different ways. Tee shots are a little tighter at Augusta. The green at both courses are renowned for their size and canter.
What does feel comfortable is the grass growing on the greens at Augusta. The bent grass reminds him of the courses back home in Dayton. “I’m pretty comfortable on the greens, so far. That’s not to say they’re easy, but some people have a hard time reading bent grass. I haven’t had that problem during my practice rounds.”
The scope of playing in a major can feel overwhelming. One big obstacle for any amateur, and even some pros, if feeling like they belong. It can be lonely showing up at an event and not knowing any players, especially for a college player who travels with a team and has competitors they see on a regular basis.
At Augusta, there won’t be a lot of familiar faces. However, two pros that might give Greaser a head nod and “what’s up” on the range are Max Homa
and Talor Gooch
. During a practice round in February, Greaser got paired up with the two pros, who were doing some of their own reconnaissance.
Homa played his first Masters in 2020 and Gooch had never played Augusta before.
The round gave Greaser a sense of relief.
“I’ve never played with PGA Tour pros before. But they were jokesters and having a good time. It gave me a little bit of comfort that I might not have had before. Not that I was intimidated but I think it’s different teeing it up with those guys because you watch them on TV,” Greaser said.
“I feel like I have more comfort and I’m more ready to go. I might have a couple guys I can say what’s up to during the week instead of having no friends,” he said with a laugh.
“They (Homa and Gooch) gave each other a hard time for bad shots and then move on. They were cool and it was a relaxed atmosphere. It’s not much different than playing with your best friends at home. They took it seriously because they were prepping and seeing the course, but if someone hit an errant shot you could make fun of them a little bit. That was a lot of fun.”
The run at Oakmont last Augusta proved Greaser has a solid family foundation that supports him. They showed up at Oakmont, and they’ll be there to cheer on Greaser at Augusta, too.
“I have cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and obviously my immediate family will be there,” Greaser said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun to share this experience with them and see them enjoy it also.”
The support isn’t lost on Greaser, and he cherished his time competing in the U.S. Amateur.
“I think about that all the time, I’d give anything to go back and relive it and get to have all the people there. That was the best week of my life so far.”
One perk of being an amateur in The Masters is are invited to stay on the property during the week of the event. The Crow’s Nest is located on the second floor of Augusta’s clubhouse. It’s an open space that feels like a lounge with beds split off by partitions. And while it’s a tradition to take advantage of the free digs, it’s also a tough place to get the rest needed to prepare for such a challenging test of golf.
“I plan on staying in the Crow’s Nest the night of the Amateur Dinner, which is Monday night. From a rest standpoint, I’ve been told it’s cool, but it’s pretty busy at Augusta all night long with deliveries, and the mowers get going early. For the competitive days it’s not a very good rest environment. But I definitely want to get that experience at least once.”
It’s been quite a ride for Greaser from last summer up to this April. He’s poised for more success and, hopefully, many more weekends at Augusta National in the future.