Long Journey to Augusta National

By Randall MellApril 3, 2011, 4:17 pm

Mark Wilson was practically at the Augusta National gates when he was turned away.


He could almost smell the dogwoods and azaleas with the Masters invitations being finalized in 2007 before the gates were closed on him.

Same thing with the invites coming together for last season’s Masters.

Coming as agonizingly close as Wilson has, it would have been torment to end a career without ever having played the year’s first major, but he’s made it. At 36, he’s finally arrived. And nobody should enjoy the ride more down Magnolia Lane next week to his first Masters.

“I’m thrilled,” Wilson said. “I get goosebumps thinking about it, to be honest with you.”

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson is the only two-time winner on the PGA Tour this season. (Getty Images)
Back in 2007, Wilson claimed his first PGA Tour victory at the Honda Classic, climbing to No. 7 on the PGA Tour’s money list with the breakthrough. All he had to do was hold his top-10 money list position for three more weeks to earn his first Masters’ invite.

A week before the invitation list closed, Wilson slipped to ninth. The following week, when the top-10 secured their Masters’ invites, he dropped to No. 12.

It was almost cruel when Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne announced at that year’s Masters that the championship was going to resume the practice of inviting PGA Tour winners.

Of course, the announcement came about a month late for Wilson.

Still, in ’09, Wilson won his second PGA Tour event, exciting friends and family who believed a long-awaited Masters’ invite was finally in the works. No, Wilson explained to them. He won the Mayakoba Classic, an opposite field event that gets no Masters consideration.

Wilson, however, played his way to the brink of the Masters anyway at the end of ’09 by nearly securing one of the invites that goes to the top 30 who make it to the season-ending Tour Championship. Alas, he fell one shot short of making it. One stinking shot.

You would think the frustration of coming that close would have made Wilson stay away from his TV set with the Masters being televised.

Wilson, though, reveled in one of life’s great moments on Masters’ Sunday a year ago, despite being shut out.

Wilson’s wife, Amy, went into labor with the couple’s second child during the final round.

At a Chicago area hospital near their home, waiting for the birth, with Amy early in contractions, she encouraged him to turn on the television to watch the Masters. Together, they watched Phil Mickelson’s triumph. They watched Amy Mickelson’s emotional return to the public eye as she recovered from breast cancer.

Cole Richard Wilson was born about a half hour after the Masters.

Cole will celebrate his first birthday the Monday after this year’s Masters. Cole will make the trip to Augusta National with the Wilson family.

It will mark just the fourth major championship Wilson will play. He missed the cuts at the 1998 U.S. Open, the 2007 and 2009 PGA Championships.

“Part of me feels like I don’t belong,” Wilson said of his Masters’ invite after he won the Sony Open in January to secure his spot at Augusta. “I’m going to have to get over that hurdle.”

Wilson seemed to do just that three weeks later by winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He arrives at Augusta National as more than a Masters’ invitee. He arrives as the PGA Tour’s only two-time winner this season, as its leading money winner and as the leader of the FedEx Cup points race.

As one of 20 players competing in their first Masters this year, Wilson’s challenge is steep, despite his good form this season.

In 74 Masters, throwing out the first year, Fuzzy Zoeller is the only player to win the championship in his first appearance. That was 32 years ago.

“There’s no other major where knowledge of how to play the golf course comes into play more,” Tiger Woods said. “That's why I think you see so many repeat winners there. You really have to know how to play that golf course.”

That’s why Wilson enlisted Augusta National veteran caddie Bud Jackson to help him and his longtime caddie, Chris Jones. Jackson walked with Wilson in a practice round at Augusta National last month during the week of the Transitions Championship. Jackson’s the younger brother of Carl Jackson, who will tote a bag for his 50th Masters this season. Bud’s been working at Augusta National for 45 years.

Wilson’s also lined up a practice round with Larry Mize, the 1987 Masters champ, and he’s hoping to play a practice round with Zach Johnson, the ’07 Masters champ.

Though Wilson is playing in his first Masters, this isn’t his first time inside the gates. He twice visited as a spectator. Still, his visit for two practice rounds were special this spring.

“It’s like a fantasy world,” Wilson said. “You leave the course and go back out on Washington Road, with the Waffle House, the traffic, the chaos, and you’re thinking, `Wait a minute. Did that just happen?’ It was cool.”

Wilson took his father, Les, to follow him during one of the practice rounds.

“My dad took about 150 photos,” Wilson said. “I kept having to tell him, `Come on, dad, let’s go.’ It was fun.”

Wilson took a couple photos himself down in Amen Corner.

“Coming over the hill at the 11th, after you hit your tee shot, seeing the 12th green, it’s like a photograph,” Wilson said. “You’ve seen it so many times, but it’s just picture perfect.”

Not as picture perfect as Wilson hopes it will be when he plays his way there for the first time in this year’s Masters.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title

Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open

Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59

Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63

Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut

Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club

Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth

The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ

Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year

And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win

Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.