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Masters dreams still intact for amateurs Andy Ogletree, John Augenstein

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“I would be there right now.”

John Augenstein may have been sitting at Legends Club on Tuesday afternoon in Nashville, but his mind was several hours away, at Augusta National, where the Vanderbilt senior was supposed to be playing in his first Masters Tournament, a reward for finishing runner-up at last summer’s U.S. Amateur.

“This is probably the saddest I’ve been about the Masters,” said Augenstein, who had just peaked at the forecast for Augusta, Georgia.

“Amazing weather,” he added. “It would’ve been the most perfect time.”

Andy Ogletree couldn’t have agreed more. The Georgia Tech senior, who beat Augenstein in that U.S. Amateur final last August at Pinehurst, had been counting down the days until his first- and second-round tee times alongside idol and reigning Masters champion Tiger Woods. Now, Ogletree instead finds himself hitting balls alone at Dancing Rabbit, one of two courses near his hometown of Little Rock, Mississippi, where he splits his time these days.

“It’s hard not to feel sorry for yourself,” Ogletree said, “or think about what could’ve been.”

Ogletree and Augenstein aren’t making their major debuts this week at Augusta National alongside four other amateurs – USC’s Yuxin Lin, Argentina’s Abel Gallegos, Ireland’s James Sugrue and mid-amateur Lukas Michel. The coronavirus pandemic, which shuttered professional sports around the world last month, made sure of that.

But the dream of playing in a Masters, staying in the Crow’s Nest, being celebrated at the amateur dinner, walking the hallowed fairways and competing alongside the best in the world as their friends and family look on, potentially sitting in Butler Cabin as low amateur; that all remains intact – at least for now.

On Monday, Masters chairman Fred Ridley announced that the postponed tournament, originally slated to begin Thursday, had been rescheduled for the fall, specifically Nov. 12-15. That news came simultaneously with other major updates, including the cancellation of The Open and new dates for the U.S. Open, now set for Sept. 17-20 at Winged Foot, where Ogletree and Augenstein are also in the field.

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“It was a sigh a relief,” Ogletree said. “I’ve been saying, I really don’t care when the Masters is played, I just want to play.”

Added Augenstein: “If you dream of playing professionally, you hope you get to play in many Masters, but it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity getting to play it as an amateur, so I hope I get that opportunity.”

Last month, Augenstein had little hope. Of all places, he was at Augusta National, having just made the turn, when he felt his phone vibrate. He took one glance at the screen.

No way.

The NCAA had canceled the season. His college career was over.

“It was just like a gut punch,” said Augenstein, who after hitting his tee shot at No. 11 ducked behind the trees and called his dad. The 21-year-old struggled to contain his emotions.

The next day, they boiled over. This time with Augenstein on the fifth hole, a second blow, as word swept through the club that its tournament, the crown jewel of the golf calendar, had been postponed.

“It was such an eerie feeling. Nobody knew what was going on,” Augenstein said. “It took me a week to really get on the positive side of what I was thinking.”

About seven hours south, Ogletree was in a similar haze. He was spending the beginning of his spring break with his family in Destin, Florida, when the Masters news broke. With the golf world in disarray, a devastated Ogletree couldn’t sit still. In the coming weeks, he bounced around from Destin to the Florida Keys, back to Atlanta, down to St. Simons Island and finally home to eastern Mississippi.

“All that time on the road, it definitely gives you some time to think and reflect on everything,” Ogletree said.

Ogletree, 21, was just a skinny redhead with glasses when he first stepped foot on campus, but in four years he had transformed into the pillar of the Yellow Jackets’ program. While Georgia Tech had two other seniors, Luke Schniederjans and Tyler Strafaci, Ogletree was the team captain this year, and he took it seriously.

In an unselfish move, he had bypassed starts at the Genesis Invitational and Arnold Palmer Invitational to be with his teammates. By skipping Bay Hill, it allowed him to play in the Southern Highlands Collegiate, which ended up being his last college event. “I think I made the right decision,” Ogletree said.

Instead of vying for a national championship this June in Arizona and then flying directly to Muirfield Village for his pro debut at The Memorial, Ogletree is now uncertain when he’ll join the professional ranks.

“He sacrificed so much for this team, and you thought, well, it’s going to be OK because there’s going to be more for him, right? And then you see what happens,” Georgia Tech head coach Bruce Heppler said. “Out of all the college seniors, he’s probably lost more than anyone.”

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Augenstein could certainly make a case, too. He was arguably the headliner of this year’s graduating crop, likely to get the maximum number of PGA Tour exemptions – or close to it – this summer. He also was in the running for the Haskins Award, given to the player of the year in men’s college golf, posting three top-3 finishes and winning his first event of the season by six shots just days before the rest of his senior year was called off.

“He was really starting to hit his stride,” said Vanderbilt head coach Scott Limbaugh, who had moved back the finish of the Commodores’ home event, which was supposed to conclude last Saturday, so Augenstein could enjoy his Masters moment longer.

It wasn’t long ago that Limbaugh stumbled upon the kid from Owensboro, Kentucky, who was sitting on a seat attached to his pushcart, waiting out a backup on a par 3 during a junior event in Lexington. When it was his turn, Augenstein stepped up and flagged one.

Limbaugh, who was originally there to recruit two other players, immediately texted his assistant: We’re here watching the wrong people. That kid is the best player here.

A few months later, Augenstein made a run to the semifinals of the U.S. Junior Amateur, where he displayed his clutch ability and match-play prowess for all to see. A couple of years later, as a freshman, he led Vanderbilt to its first SEC title, winning two matches in extra holes. Last summer, he earned the clinching point for the U.S. Walker Cup team at Royal Liverpool.

Nicknamed “Flash,” the fiery and confident Augenstein went 8-1 in postseason match play and never finished outside the top 20 at the NCAA Championship.

"As a coach, you dream of being able to coach guys like John Augenstein," Limbaugh said.

While seniors such as Augenstein and Ogletree will be afforded an extra year by the NCAA to return to school in the fall, it’s unlikely, barring unforeseen events, that either will do so. They have dreams of playing professionally, and despite the PGA Tour schedule being very much in flux at the moment, the expectation right now is that each could turn pro after the Masters (or possibly before if Augusta National follows the USGA’s lead and allows players to use their amateur exemptions as pros) and hope for some starts this winter.

“The goal is to get to the PGA Tour as quickly as possible,” Augenstein said. “What that means for me, the short answer is I really don’t know. These circumstances are unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and that’s one of the hardest parts. Your whole life you have this plan, you’re going to go to college and after four years you’re going to turn pro and hopefully play on the PGA Tour. I was supposed to play in the Masters, compete for a national championship and, though nothing was certain, get some starts on the PGA Tour and get everything going, just according to plan, and that’s all been taken away for the time being.

“It’s just a shock, and I’ve probably never been this down for this extended period of time.”

Each day it gets a little better, though. And soon enough, Augenstein and Ogletree will – hopefully – be at Augusta National, ready to tee it up in a fall Masters, and it will once again be the most perfect time.