Steve Wilsons unlikely road to Augusta National

By Associated PressMarch 28, 2009, 4:00 pm
JACKSON, Miss. ' Back when Steve Wilson was halfheartedly trying to make the PGA Tour, he often wondered what it would be like to play at the Masters even though he had no real expectation of ever making it.
Hes finally going to get the chance to find out after earning a trip to golfs most prestigious tournament in a way he didnt envision in even his wildest fantasies.
Plans dont always work out the way you expect them to, Wilson said.
Four years after notifying the USGA he was giving up his pro status, the 39-year-old gas station owner from Ocean Springs, Miss., will be teeing off on April 9 with Tiger, Phil and the gang among the azaleas at Augusta National.
Call it the cart path less traveled.
Wilson earned the trip by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Milwaukee Country Club in a rout last September. He never trailed in his final three matches, took a four-hole lead to start the championship match and one-putted 14 times over 32 holes.
For winning, he gets automatic entry into the Masters, exemptions for several amateur tournaments and will skip a round of U.S. Open qualifying.
His goals at Augusta are simple: First make the cut, then aim for the top 16. That would get him another year in the tournament. He also intends later this year to make a run at the U.S. Open and likely will play in the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and the Mid-Am, a tournament for amateurs over 25 to which he now has a 10-year exemption.
He tried off and on for 10 years to make a pro career work. He played a few Nike Tour events, but never went to qualifying school and just sort of gave up when life got in the way. There was a son, Gavan, to raise and a business to run.
I own a gas station down here and I had to work quite a bit, Wilson said. I was a professional but I tell my wife I was never a wholehearted professional.
In a way, his former career probably went the way it should have. Truth is, he says, he wasnt much of a golfer as a young adult. He played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, then transferred to Southern Miss where he was a contemporary of occasional playing partner Brett Favre.
Slow learner, dumb, late bloomer, Wilson said when asked why his game took so long to develop.
But the older he got, the better he played. He won the Mississippi state amateur title in 2007 and has won seven pro-ams and three amateur championships on the Gulf Coast. His buddies have been amazed by his transformation from a guy with a jittery putter to one now considering taking another crack at playing professionally.
He is definitely the best player to come from down here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the last 50 years, said Tommy Snell, the golf coach at Gulf Coast CC who has known Wilson since he was a junior player.
Snell accompanied Wilson to Augusta National on Sunday for a practice round ' another great perk for winning the Mid-Am ' and was tickled by the progress his friend has made.
Hes a very, very accomplished golfer, just not nationally known, Snell said. So this is bizarre for everybody. When I went up there on Sunday and walked around the course with him, I was thinking, This is a guy we play with for 5 or 10 bucks a stroke.
Heath Slocum, a PGA Tour player and former Mississippian who got his start on the mini-tours, remembers Wilson from his days chasing a spot on the Tour.
I played quite a bit of golf with him, said Slocum, who finished 33rd at Augusta last year in his first appearance. I was really happy to see what he did last year. Hes a good golfer, obviously. You have to be to get to Augusta. Its going to be exciting. Hes going to have a great time. Obviously, its a pretty demanding golf course.
Wilson has learned that firsthand. He has taken advantage of the chance to practice at Augusta, playing 15 rounds in six visits since December. Hes been awed by the kindness of the clubs staff, and taken the chance to load up on shirts, windbreakers and visors with its logo.
His worst round on the par-72 course was an 81 and his best was a 73 he shot last weekend. He figures if he can repeat a similar score on the first two days of competition hell make the cut at the usually stingy Augusta National.
The trips have brought back memories from his youth when hed tape the tournament and watch it repeatedly.
Its incredible, Wilson said. Its one of the few things thats as good as you build it up in your mind. The tradition and everywhere you go out there you can remember a shot that somebodys hit.
I would like to be there everyday for the rest of my life if I could.
He says that even though the course is so difficult it has entered his dreams.
Theyre all the same, Wilson said. The hole is a real tall glass tube and Im on the ground. And I say, How can I possibly make that.
The trips have helped reinvigorate his wish to become a professional, though he wont put much more thought into it until he sees how he does this spring and summer. On their 450-mile drive north last weekend, Wilson and Snell listened to the audiobook version of John Feinsteins Tales from Q-School.
Its all very tempting, and hed hate to think 20 years down the road that he might have missed an opportunity.
After what my golf career has produced, yeah, Wilson said. Theres so much money in golf now, if youve got any kind of a crack to get through, youve got to take it.
Getting there is expensive, though. Wilson figures it will cost him more than $15,000 by the time hes done. Friends held a fundraiser to help defray the cost of his trip, but he ended up donating the nearly $3,000 raised to a junior golfing program after some wags started to make fun of him.
I was going to Disney World a few weeks ago and all my friends said, Oh, God, when are you going to hold a fundraiser for that, Wilson said with a laugh.
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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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    Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

    Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

    “I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

    Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

    After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

    Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

    The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.