The heady talk started on Wednesday night at the amateur dinner.
Charlie Yates--lifelong friend to Bobby Jones, a lifetime
amateur--fixed his pale and watery eyes upon those in
attendance, buttoned his green coat and gave his pep talk.
Yates, 85 and a participant in the first Masters, has presided
over this dinner for 51 years and always says pretty much the
same thing. He talks about how much Jones cherished the role of
the amateur in the tournament, how a couple of amateurs, Billy
Joe Patton and Ken Venturi, contended for the title some years
back and how wonderful it would be for that to happen again.
Yates doesn't bother with the barren times, the five years,
three of them in the '90s, in which no amateur trophy was
awarded because no amateur made the cut. Instead, in his remarks
this year, he focused on Matt Kuchar, the Georgia Tech junior
who played the '98 Masters in level par, finishing 21st and
thereby earning a repeat invitation. Yates told the amateurs
competing in this year's Masters that they were the best group
the tournament had ever assembled.
Take a look at the '99 talent brigade: British Amateur champ
Sergio Garcia, 19; Trevor Immelman, 19, winner of the U.S.
Public Links; Kuchar, 20, who finished among the top 24 in last
year's U.S. Open as well as the Masters; 23-year-old Hank
Kuehne, the U.S. Amateur champion; Tom McKnight, 44, who lost to
Kuehne in the Amateur final; and John (Spider) Miller, 48 and
the U.S. Mid-Am winner. On Sunday no one from this sixsome was
competing for the green jacket, although four of them--the most
to survive the cut since 1985--were still around to compete for
the silver cup awarded to the low amateur.
There were thrilling moments even for the two men who spent the
weekend as spectators. For the first two rounds Miller was
paired with his hero, Arnold Palmer, as he had been in the '97
Masters. Miller, a Hoosier who works in the beer-distribution
business, shot a pair of 81s, disappointing, to be sure, but an
improvement by a stroke over his 36-hole total from two years ago.
Then there was Kuehne. When wasn't he thrilling? Last Thursday
he hit his inaugural tee shot over the trees that mark the left
side of the 1st fairway and over the adjoining 9th fairway. His
ball finally concluded its spectacular journey in the trees off
the 8th fairway. Stepping off the tee, he was consoled by one of
his playing partners--the defending champ, Mark O'Meara, himself
a former U.S. Amateur winner--who spoke of his own opening-shot
adventure in his first Masters, in 1980. Buoyed by this chat,
Kuehne saved par on number 1. Then on 2 he hit a yawning,
drawing 345-yard tee shot--with a three-wood. On Friday he
reached number 8, 550 uphill yards playing into the wind, with a
driver and a three-iron. Nobody else reached the green with an
iron that day.
April 18, 1999
Kuehne, a senior at SMU, opened with a 74 and through 27 holes
was still two over and looked certain to make the cut. He had
dozens of family members and friends traipsing after him, and
they savored his good play because they know what he has endured.
Kuehne suffers from depression, attention-deficit disorder and
dyslexia. He is an alcoholic, recovering division. He wears a
gold key around his neck. "It's a key to a new beginning," Kuehne
says. "Recovery. A reminder of where I've been."
Recovery is a big part of Kuehne's golf game, too, but nobody
can recover from the pond that guards the 15th green. Kuehne's
back-nine 42 on Friday left him at 152 for two rounds. Others
seemed disappointed for him, but Kuehne didn't seem disappointed
for himself. "I've never been inside the ropes here. I've never
been outside the ropes," he said. "Now I get to experience
both." He spent the weekend the way Yates did, rooting for the
On Sunday the four left in the field held a competition within
the competition. McKnight, playing as well as any part-time
golfer in his first Masters could possibly play, was four over
through three rounds. Kuchar was one back and paired with
McKnight. Garcia was six over, Immelman 10.
Kuchar looked like the man to beat. He started the week ill,
with flulike symptoms, his toothy grin in hibernation. He and
his father-caddie were not merrily striding down the fairways,
as they had a year ago. Kuchar opened with a 77 and looked like
he'd be gone. He turned an 80 into a 71 by taking 22 putts on
Friday. By Saturday, healthy again, he shot 73.
But Kuchar skanked a few shots coming in on Sunday, as did
McKnight, and they shot 78 and 77, respectively. That opened the
door for Garcia, who was killing drives and holing putts while
shooting 73. His goals were to win the tournament, make the cut
and be the low amateur. He realized two of them. He's a
determined kid who plays like a man. "It's a great resume he's
compiling," Kuchar said of Garcia.
Heading to the locker room after his round, Garcia bumped into
Fred Couples, who put an arm around him and welcomed him to the
big leagues. The young Spaniard then set himself in front of a
TV to watch another Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal, win his
second green jacket. When Olazabal won in '94, Garcia was 14 and
already planning his next steps. He's still planning.
Garcia played the first two rounds with '97 Masters champ Tiger
Woods, and they chatted as they walked down the fairways. Garcia
posed many questions. As they talked, Garcia's father and caddie
at Augusta, Victor, a club pro, was careful to give the two
young golfers their space.
It is tempting to compare Garcia with the young Seve
Ballesteros, who is like a second father to Sergio, but the
truth is they are nothing alike. Seve was swashbuckling and
charismatic and simple; voluble when speaking Spanish, quiet
when forced into English. Garcia is a sophisticate. He dresses
crisply, speaks English beautifully, and has a low tolerance for
risk on the course. He is always in total control, even of his
emotions. Find another 19-year-old golfer you can say that about.
After play was over, his silver cup as the low amateur securely
in hand, Garcia had an announcement. He confirmed that he will
be turning pro--soon.
Charlie Yates was pleased. Amateur golf will lose a good one, but
pro golf will improve immediately.
Garcia is always in total control, even of his emotions. Find
another 19-year-old golfer you can say that about.