Amateurs Finest Hour

By Michael ArkushApril 2, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's Note: The following is a special feature courtesy LINKS Magazine
 
Amateur is not a term of derision at the Masters. Rather, largely due to the example set by tournament co-founder Bobby Jones, amateurs leave Augusta much richer in experience, if not in their wallets. They get to stay in the Crow's Nest in the clubhouse for the week and are feted during an annual dinner, one of the Masters' grand traditions. (The other pre-tournament dinner is the one with a strict dress code: green jacket required.) Amateurs play practice rounds with the game's greats and are paired with past champions for the first two rounds.
 
'That was living the dream for me,' says Matt Kuchar, who played the 1998 and '99 Masters as an amateur. 'The coolest thing was waking up in the Crow's Nest. You walk down these ladder-like stairs. You exit from what appears to be a phone booth out into the main dining room, and people go, 'Where did he come from?' And then you see this magnificent view of the big oak tree and the putting green and the 18th green.'
 
The amateur experience at the Masters remains entrenched despite golf's shift of power almost entirely to the professional game during the past several decades, a trend reflected in the number of amateur invitees-from a high of 26 in 1966 to three this year.
 
But no matter the number of amateurs in the field, there has been one constant: None has won the Masters. A few have come close, and here are the 10 best amateur performances in tournament history.
 
1. Ken Venturi - 1956
For three rounds, 24-year-old Ken Venturi simply outclassed Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer to hold a four-shot advantage. Heading into the final 18, the improbable seemed inevitable: An amateur was going to win the Masters.
 
'All I had to do was the same thing I had been doing all week long,' Venturi explained in his autobiography.
 
He couldn't. Although he played well from tee to green, hitting 15 greens on a windy day in which there were only two rounds under par and the low score was 71, Venturi three-putted six times. He still had a four-shot lead with nine holes remaining, but made bogeys on five of the next six holes and shot 80. Jackie Burke, who started the round eight shots behind, donned the green jacket.
 
'Did I choke?' Venturi wrote. 'If you go by my score, you can make that argument. I choose to look at it differently.'
 

2. Billy Joe Patton - 1954
A decade after World War II, another Patton was marching toward victory. After matching his age by shooting 32 on the front nine of the final round that included an ace on the 6th hole, Billy Joe Patton held a one-shot lead as he stood in the 13th fairway, debating whether to go for the green or lay up on the par 5.
 
If the aggressive play was a long shot, Patton himself was a longer one. The lumber salesman from Morganton, North Carolina, was playing his first Masters, having qualified for being an alternate on the 1953 Walker Cup team. (Patton went on to play in five Walker Cups.)
 
'What the hell,' he said, reaching for a 3-wood. 'I didn't get where I've got by playing safe.' His second shot found the tributary of Rae's Creek guarding the 13th green; Patton made double bogey and he finished one shot out of a playoff between Sam Snead and Ben Hogan, won by Snead.
 
Patton played in 12 more Masters, finishing in the top 10 in 1958 and '59.
 

3. Charles Coe - 1961
While most of the attention was on another amateur, long-hitting Jack Nicklaus, it was Charlie Coe who nearly stole the tournament from Gary Player, who shot 74 in the final round. The 37-year-old Coe, a WWII pilot who had won the 1949 and 1958 U.S. Amateurs, shot 69 to tie for second with Arnold Palmer, who infamously made double bogey on the final hole.
 
Coe, who was an Augusta National member, is the Masters' most decorated amateur: He played in 19 tournaments, finishing in the top 10 three times and in the top 25 nine times.
 

4. E. Harvie Ward Jr. - 1957
The name at the top of the leader board Sunday morning was no great surprise: Sam Snead. The name right under it, Harvie Ward, was. The 30-year-old car salesman from San Francisco and the winner of back-to-back U.S. Amateurs in 1955 and '56 trailed by a single shot.
 
Neither Ward nor Snead played particularly well, and Doug Ford blew by both of them with a final-round 66. Afterward, Ward was banned from competitive golf for a year after it was ruled that he had violated his amateur status for accepting expense money from his car dealership.
 

5. Frank Stranahan - 1947
Although he never seriously threatened to win the tournament, 24-year-old Frank Stranahan shot a final-round 68, the lowest score of the day, to tie Byron Nelson for second, two strokes behind Jimmy Demaret. It was the highest finish by an amateur to date.
 
Unfortunately, Stranahan is remembered more for what happened the following year, when his invitation was revoked for allegedly hitting more than one ball into the greens during a practice round.
 
The son of the founder of the spark plug manufacturing company Champion, Stranahan played in 11 more Masters. He also won two British Amateurs and tied for second behind Ben Hogan in the historic 1953 British Open before turning pro in 1954.
 

6. Ryan Moore - 2005
In 2004 Ryan Moore had the greatest season in modern amateur golf, winning the NCAA Championship, U.S. Amateur Public Links, Western Amateur and U.S. Amateur, and helping the U.S. win the World Amateur Team Championship while earning low individual honors-an unprecedented sweep.
 
So expectations for the 22-year-old Moore at the Masters were higher than for most amateurs. Still, few expected him to play as well as he did, finishing in a tie for 13th. 'I was just having a blast out there,' Moore, now on the PGA Tour, recalls of that week. 'It was an incredible experience.'
 

7. Jack Nicklaus - 1961
Jack Nicklaus again displayed his awesome potential, 10 months after finishing second in the 1960 U.S. Open, a tournament that his final-36-hole playing partner Ben Hogan said Nicklaus 'should have won by 10 shots.'
 
In his final Masters as an amateur, the 21-year-old Nicklaus finished tied for seventh, his second consecutive top-10 showing in a major. Nicklaus won the first of his record six green jackets two years later.
 

8. Robert Tyre Jones Jr. - 1934
The performance was far from vintage Bobby Jones: rounds of 76, 74, 72 and 72, tied for 13th. No matter. Given his responsibilities as the host in the inaugural event and his four-year absence from competition since capturing the Grand Slam, the 32-year-old Jones' performance still ranks as one of the finest showings by an amateur on this grand stage.
 
Jones competed in 11 more Masters but never eclipsed his 1934 finish.
 

9. Richard Chapman - 1954
Dick Chapman's bid to make history was not nearly as dramatic as the one put together by Billy Joe Patton that year. A closing 70 sent 43-year-old Chapman into 11th place, six strokes behind Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. It was his best finish in 19 starts, tied with Charlie Coe for the most among amateurs, spanning from 1939 to 1962.
 
Chapman, a major in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II, finished in the top 20 four times at the Masters and also won the U.S. and British Amateurs, as well as the North and South Amateur.
 

10. Matt Kuchar - 1998
After a rather ordinary first 36 holes (72-76), Matt Kuchar shot 68 in the third round. On that magical Saturday, Kuchar's infectious joy at shining during his first Masters radiated from the smile that seemed to be fixed permanently on his face. Kuchar, 19, closed with a 72 on Sunday, finishing in a tie for 21st, which earned him a return invitation the following year, the first amateur to do so since Sam Randolph in 1985. Two months later, he tied for 14th at the U.S. Open, the best showing by an amateur since 1971.
 
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  • Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

    The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

    The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

    In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

    Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

    Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

    Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

    John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

    Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

    By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

    Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

    RISING

    Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

    Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

    Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

    Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

    Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


    FALLING

    J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

    Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

    Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

    DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

    LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

    Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

    Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

    In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

    "Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

    Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

    "The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

    The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

    "Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

    Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

    Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

    By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

    We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

    God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

    We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

    Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

    There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

    It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

    Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

    Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

    BORN IN 1912

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
    May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
    Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

    Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


    BORN IN 1949

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
    Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
    Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

    Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


    BORN IN 1955

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
    Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
    Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

    Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

    Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
    Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
    Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
    Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
    Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

    A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


    EUROPE'S BIG 5

    Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
    April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
    July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
    Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
    Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
    March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

    The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


    WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
    Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
    May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
    May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
    June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

    Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


    BORN IN 1980

    Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
    Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
    July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
    July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

    Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

    Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.