U.S. Mid-Am champ Lewis heads to Masters
Randal Lewis
Randal Lewis

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Randal Lewis had the best club sandwich of his life Monday. There was nothing special about the bread or bacon. It was more about the location. Lewis dined in the Champions' Locker Room with Tom Watson after a practice round at Augusta National.

And so begins one of the greatest weeks in golf. Even if you can't be at Augusta National to soak up the excitement surrounding the Masters, we'll be bringing you images, starting with Monday's practice round.

"Everything here is "best ever," said Lewis, the U.S. Mid-Am champ. "It gets better every day that goes by."

The hard work will begin Thursday, when Lewis, 54, will try to buck an unsightly Masters trend. No player invited to Augusta National as the reigning Mid-Amateur champion has made the cut.

The course's length is one obvious reason for the Mid-Am champs' lack of success, as is the stage of the season's first major. Augusta National is listed at 7,435 yards, with nine par-4s of 440 yards or longer.

Nathan Smith, who's played in three Masters as a three-time U.S. Mid-Am champ, lost to Lewis in the semifinals of last year's Mid-Am. Smith knows well the pressures that come with the season's first major, though.

"You have 40,000 patrons there and you're playing a 7,400-yard golf course," said Smith, who lost to Lewis in the semifinals of last year's Mid-Am. "It puts a lot of stress on your game."

Lewis, who said he carries his tee shots approximately 245 yards, will be especially tested by the course's length. He's hoping the course continues to dry out, so that he can get more roll on his tee shots. He hit hybrids into Nos. 7 and 9 during practice rounds last week, but hit 5-iron and 7-iron into those holes Monday. Last week, Lewis teed it up with Phil Mickelson. Lewis played Monday with Watson, Martin Kaymer and Andy North.

"He was the guy who I wanted to play with," Lewis said of Watson. "He was an inspiration to me with what he did at the British Open in 2009. Not only that, but the way he's represented the game. He's a first class individual. It was a thrill. It went too fast."

Lewis took the long road to the Masters. At 54, he's believed to be the oldest rookie in tournament history. He played one year of college golf at Central Michigan, then turned pro for all of four weeks. He played the J.C. Goosie Tour before realizing that his career would be spent somewhere besides a golf course. He's now a financial adviser with Raymond James.

Lewis had a close call with the Masters in 1996, when he lost the Mid-Am final to John 'Spider' Miller. He admits that too many thoughts about the Masters made it difficult to concentrate. 'It was pretty painful,' he said of the loss.

He'll now try to make history for the Mid-Am set. That's not his focus, though. This week has already exceeded his dreams. Former U.S. Mid-Am champs Smith and Kevin Marsh told Lewis, "No matter what you think, this week is going to be way better,' Lewis said. "They were right.

"My goal this week is the same goal I have any time I play tournaments any more. I hope I can play to the best of my abilities and have fun."

He won't be staying in the Crow's Nest, the amateur housing atop Augusta National's clubhouse. He made alternate arrangements because of the breathing machine he uses for his sleep apnea. He did tour the Crow's Nest, though. His first impression?

"It was a little bit smaller than I thought it would be," he said. "But it's still neat. There's a lot of history there."

He'll be looking to make some of his own come Thursday.

ABOUT THE The Masters

One of Golf's four professional majors traditionally invites amateurs who have reached the finals of the US Amateur, or won the British Amateur or the US Mid Amateur. Also included are the winners of the relatively new Asia Pacific Amateur and Latin American Amateur.

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