Bobby Pope

Life for amateurs tough at Masters

Can an amateur win the Masters golf tournament at the Augusta National this week?

It’s never been done before in the previous 78 tournaments played on the picturesque course off of Washington Road, and the field of golfers who play for no pay and qualified this year would indicate it will stay that way.

The group includes U.S. Amateur champion Gunn Yang of South Korea and runner-up Cory Conners of England, British Amateur champion Bradley Neal of Scotland, U.S. Amateur public links champion Byron Meth, U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey of Greensboro, North Carolina, and Asia Pacific Amateur champion Antonio Murdaca of Australia.

Macon residents Peter Persons and Jim Stuart both appeared in the Masters as a result of qualifying in one of those events. Persons played in the 1986 tournament after finishing as 1985 U.S. Amateur runner-up to Sam Randolph, and Stuart made back to back appearances after winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur championship in 1990 and ‘91. Persons did not make the cut in his only visit to Augusta and neither did Stuart in his two trips.

In the long history of the Masters, amateurs have finished second twice.

Ken Venturi, who went on to play on the PGA Tour and claim 14 wins, including the 1964 U.S. Open, had an excellent chance to win as an amateur in 1956, He was in the lead after each of the first three days, but ballooned to an 8-over-par 80 in the final round and finished one stroke behind winner Jack Burke Jr.

After turning professional, Venturi finished second to Arnold Palmer in the 1960 Masters. Following his playing days, Venturi enjoyed a long successful career as a golf analyst for CBS Sports.

Charlie Coe, a lifetime amateur who is considered among the best amateur players of all time, had a second-place finish in 1961. He came from six shots down in the final round to finish one shot back of South African Gary Player, who became the first foreign player to win the Masters. Coe played in the Masters 19 times and made the cut on 15 occasions. He also holds the all-time low amateur score of 67 in the third round.

Amateurs have had little success in winning on the PGA tour as well.

The last amateur to win was Phil Mickelson in 1991 when he claimed the Northern Telecom Open. Prior to Mickelson’s win, Scott Verplank won the 1985 Western Open, Georgian Doug Sanders the 1956 Canadian Open and Gene Littler the 1954 San Diego Open. All four of those players went on to play on the PGA tour and have nearly 100 victories; Mickelson 42, Littler 29, Sanders 20 and Verplank 5.

With the quality of talent coming out of colleges today, it is more common to see an amateur take top honors on the tour, the prelude to membership on the PGA circuit. Since 2007, three collegiate players have won on that tour.

BYU’s Daniel Summerhays, a three-time college All-American, won the Nationwide Children’s Invitational, Macon native and Georgia All-American Russell Henley won the Stadion Classic in Athens in 20ll and later that summer, Henley’s Bulldogs teammate Harris English, also an All American, won the Nationwide Children’s Invitational.

Summerhays, Henley and English are now regulars on the PGA Tour, although Henley is the only member of the trio to qualify for the Masters this year, doing so in the PGA Tour Championship last fall.

While I am pulling for Mickelson to win a fourth green jacket, my prediction is Rory McIlroy winning with Jason Day a close second.

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