Jack Newman: My Masters

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Editor's note: GolfChannel.com will be following four mini-tour players – Tim Hegarty, Zack Sucher, Benoit Beisser and Jack Newman – over the course of 2011 in our new feature, 'The Minors.' Check in each week for the players' progress, updates, photos and more.

Pantone Matching System Color 567. It’s the particular shade of green in the official colors of Michigan State University.

Green has always been a good color for Jack Newman. His Hoover High Huskies (Des Moines, Iowa) sported green and gold. His MSU Spartans were the aforementioned green and white.  Even his 2006 Ford Taurus is “steel” green.

And then there is Augusta green, also known as Pantone 342.

That shade, chosen to match Augusta National's rye grass fairways, is reserved for the Masters champion, the color of the less-than-chic, but oh-so-coveted blazer.

Newman can remember the first time he saw Augusta National Golf Club up close.

“Green, just green everywhere,” he said. “Everything was perfect.”

Newman got a chance to play the course, and the Masters Tournament, thanks to his victory in the 2008 U.S. Public Links Championship.

Before Masters week 2009, he played the course 15 times on four trips to Augusta, Ga.

“I didn’t have Friday classes in the fall and spring semesters so I’d fly out Thursday night, meet up with my family, play 36 (holes) Friday and another 36 Saturday,” he said.

Those four outings included dad Bob, and brothers Andy, Dan and Dave on different occasions. Andy, now 36 and a former PGA section pro in Iowa and Minnesota for 11 years, served as Jack’s bagman for the tournament proper, just as he did at the Publinx.

When asked if he ever considered using a local caddie during the Masters, someone with more course knowledge, Newman replied, 'I did. But it was such a special time, we just wanted to keep it in the family.'

Family is a big part of Jack's life, and Jack has a pretty big family – three older brothers, one older sister, four nephews and one niece. He was awarded eight passes by tournament officials, but still had a total of 17 people in a house rented for the week. At nights they would have dinner and play cribbage, which helped Jack clear his mind.

Newman did, however, take advantage of a Masters tradition that allows amateur participants to stay in the Crow’s Nest above Butler Cabin during tournament week. He spent two nights there, overlooking all that was green and sharing stories with then reigning U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, U.S. Amateur runner-up Drew Kittleson and British Amateur champion Reinier Saxton.

“It was awesome. They were great guys and we had a great time. But when it got closer to tournament time I wanted to relax and focus, and be around my family,” Newman said.

Leading into the 73rd edition of the Masters Tournament, the then 21-year-old college junior had some quality company in practice rounds. He arrived in town the Friday before and played the course both Saturday and Sunday, the latter of which included nine holes with Rocco Mediate and 18 with Boo Weekley and Brandt Snedeker, who nearly won the tournament the year before.

Monday, he managed only 15 holes of practice in windy conditions, but did so alongside 2007 champion and fellow Iowan Zach Johnson. Anthony Kim joined them for three holes, helping them close out the front nine. After that it was off to the annual Amateur’s Dinner and then promptly in front of a TV set for the NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship game between his Spartans and North Carolina. Unfortunately, Carolina Blue got the better of Pantone 567.

Tuesday, Newman played the back nine with Crow’s Nest roomie Saxton, before Kim and former British Open champion Todd Hamilton caught up with them on the par-3 16th. It was there that Newman enjoyed another Masters tradition: attempting to skip a ball across the water and onto the green. Saxton and Hamilton couldn’t keep their balls dry and Kim’s finished in a bunker. Going fourth, Newman hit a low line drive that skipped once, twice and three times before settling on the front of the green.

The patrons erupted in applause. It would not be the last time that they would give Jack a standing ovation.

Wednesday was the Par 3 Contest. Newman was grouped with former champions Fuzzy Zoeller and Sandy Lyle. Earlier in the morning, he got in nine holes on the tournament course with a 19-year-old Rory McIlroy and Kenny Perry.

“I got some advice throughout the week from the guys,” Newman said. “Rocco just told me to be myself and Rory said to just keep doing what I did to get to this point – don’t stray. I appreciated everything they had to say.”

With his father as his caddie, Newman nearly won the Par 3 Contest, ultimately finishing two back of champion Tim Clark. Despite a field-best five birdies over the nine holes, it was a double-bogey at the eighth that relegated Newman to a tie for second with two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal.

“On No. 8, I had 110 (yards) and flew the green, into the water for double. I didn’t even know I was close to the lead,” Newman recounted.

He certainly didn’t do it on purpose. Well aware that no one had won the Par 3 Contest and the Masters Tournament in the same year, Newman just had one goal in mind: “Pick up as much hardware as I could.”

As for his goal for the week, Newman, likewise, was single-minded: “I didn’t want to just make the cut. I felt that would be limiting me. I wanted to finish high enough to qualify for next year.”

Things certainly started in that direction Thursday afternoon. Teeing off at 12:02 p.m. ET with Mediate and Fred Couples – one of Newman’s golfing idols – Jack shot even-par 72 to finish the day in a tie for 39th. Friday, however, wasn’t quite as kind, as Mother Nature blew through Augusta.

Newman’s second round began at 8:55 a.m., and with three consecutive pars. Then came three bogeys over his next four holes. A birdie at the par-4 ninth, however, gave him a 2-over 38 at the turn and kept him in contention to qualify for the weekend.

At No. 9, Newman rifled a drive through the heart of the wind, stuck his approach shot to 8 feet, and then converted a less-than-routine birdie putt.

History shows in all its cruelty that no putt is a gimme at Augusta National and Newman learned quickly that there is nothing simplistic about the green complexes.

 “In the fall, the greens weren’t too fast, only a little more so in the spring,” he said.

“A week or two before, I could see an extra 2 feet of trickle. By the start of Masters week they were lightning quick. It wasn’t as if I had never had straight putts on very fast greens, but there are so many undulations there that it increases the speed and makes it so much more difficult. If you miss (your approach shot) on the wrong part of the green, it’s almost a guaranteed bogey – or, you’ll at least have to make a 15-, 20-footer for par. You have to put your ball in the proper segment of the green.”

After a bogey at 10 and a par at 11, Newman reached Augusta National’s most famous hole, the par-3 12th. It was playing right at 150 yards that day. In practice rounds, Newman made a couple of birdies on the hole known as Golden Bell and thought, “This isn’t really hard.”

That outlook changed during competition as Newman made bogey there on Day 1.

After watching Mediate plop one into Rae’s Creek on Day 2, Newman followed suit. “I ballooned an 8-iron. Right into the water,” he said. Double-bogey.

Not normally a conformist, Couples made it three-for-three and found the creek as well.

Newman went on to birdie the par-5 13th and the par-3 16th. His final birdie of the tournament came courtesy a beautiful 8-iron from 170 yards. With the pin on the right portion of the green, his tee shot hit right in front of the pin, hopped once and settled 6 inches away from an ace.

At the end of the day, Newman signed for a 4-over 76. His 4-over total missed the cut by three strokes.

After his round, Newman was greeted by family and friends, as well as Clair Peterson, tournament director of the John Deere Classic, who offered him a sponsor’s invitation into the event not three hours from his hometown of Des Moines.

That was a wonderful bonus to what was a wonderful week. But it wasn’t the highlight. That came Thursday.

After good night’s rest prior to his opening round, Newman ate breakfast, went through his warm-up routine, and then made his way to the first tee. After watching Couples and Mediate tee off, it was his turn.

“Fore, please. Jack Newman now driving.”

“I’m sure I breathed,” Newman said, only half-joking, “but I don’t really remember.

“I wasn’t really nervous until that point, when I put my tee in the ground. Somehow, I managed to make a good swing and knock it down the middle, about 280 (yards).”

Newman three-putted the first hole for bogey and made three other bogeys over his first nine holes to just one birdie, turning in 3-over 39. He dropped another shot at the 10th, before trading a birdie at 11 for a bogey at 12.

Newman reached the green in two on the par-5 13th, but once again three-putted, this time for par.

“That actually got me going,” he said. “The whole thing was a struggle until the back nine. When I three-putted for par at 13, it really got me upset. Being a little mad took away from the nerves.”

Four over par for the tournament with five holes to play in his first round, Newman got angry. He didn't turn green, but he did start carding red.

After a drive down the left side of the par-4 14th fairway, Newman hit his approach shot to 10 feet and made the putt for birdie. At the par-5 15th, he laid up short of the water in two. A wedge from 60 yards out finished 10 feet from the hole, setting up his second consecutive birdie.

He made it three-in-a-row at the 16th, before ending his run with a par at 17.

Another great drive put Newman dead center in the 18th fairway.

“Walking off the 18th tee, Chris Winkel, who way my coach then, said, ‘Well, let’s see if you can finish it off,’” Newman recalled.

And Newman obliged. He hit his approach shot to the uphill green a little long, his ball coming to rest on a sprinkler head. After his free drop, he faced a downhill, 18-foot slider.

“I hit the putt a little too hard. Some people have joked that the ball would still be rolling today, if it hadn’t hit the cup. But it did, and it went in, so that’s all that matters,” Newman said with a wry smile.

“The crowd went nuts. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling.

“But the best thing, when you watch it on TV – the one time you get to see me on TV – when I go back to my bag, there is a Michigan State fan, this guy all decked out in Michigan State gear going bonkers. It’s great to receive that kind of support.”

Newman exited the grounds that Saturday morning. He regrets – just a little – leaving that early instead of sticking around for at least one more day to enjoy the tournament from outside the ropes.

One of his practice partners should have won that year. Perry had one arm inside the green jacket before flubbing it away. Angel Cabrera went on to defeat Perry and Chad Campbell in a sudden-death playoff.

Few will remember how well Cabrera putted late that Sunday to earn victory. Most will forever remember it as another major opportunity gone awry for Perry.

Newman will remember the 2009 Masters as only 95 other people can – as a playing competitor. It’s only two years down the line, but it’s safe to say that the clarity with which he recalls the events now will remain just as vivid in the future.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” said Newman. “It’s certainly something I will never forget and I can only hope to have the chance to live it again some day.”