By Ed Rudd
The view from the Crow’s Nest atop Augusta National’s clubhouse is reserved for a few lucky amateurs. The tradition at the Masters allows amateur invitees to stay in the Crow’s Nest during their time at the tournament, a perk that not even members are allowed. A small staircase from the locker room leads to the quarters at the peak of the clubhouse, but the road to getting there is much longer, and much more winding, for this year’s five amateur competitors.
The Masters has invited five amateur champions to compete in 2012. They are Kelly Kraft, the current U.S .Amateur champion; Randal Lewis, reigning Mid-Amateur champ; Bryden Macpherson, current British Amateur champion; Hideki Matsuyama, the Asian Amateur champion; and Corbin Mills, U.S. Amateur Public Links champion. Winning their respective titles is just the first step, with looming decisions on turning pro, attending college, and continuing battles on the links these fine golfers face on their way to Magnolia Lane.
Kelly Kraft, stellar member of SMU’s golf team, had to dispatch Patrick Cantlay, Golfweek/Sagarin ranking’s current No. 1 amateur, to win his U.S. Amateur title. Kraft has decided to turn pro after this year’s Masters, opting to forfeit exemptions to this year’s U.S. & British Open championships and attempt to qualify as a professional. Those are tough choices leading down a challenging path.
Australian British Amateur champion Bryden Macpherson decided to withdraw from the University of Georgia in order to get ready for competing at this year’s Masters, a move that strongly indicates he will turn pro sometime after the tournament. He and Kraft will have the honor of meeting in a head to head competition prior to the Masters in this year’s Georgia Cup, a traditional meeting of reigning U.S. vs. British amateur champions that began in 1998.
Randal Lewis has the honor of being the oldest U.S. Mid Amateur winner at 54 years of age. Lewis, a Central Michigan grad and stalwart of the Michigan amateur scene, was briefly a pro from ’80 to ’82 before regaining his amateur status. Randal’s road to the Masters was paved by continually knocking on the door at USGA events through the 90’s and early 00’s before finally breaking through in 2011.
Hideki Matsuyama might get the same Crow’s Nest bunk he had at last year’s Masters, as he is a repeat Asian Amateur Champion. Matsuyama has tried his hand at professional level competition in Japan, winning the Taiheiyo Masters which included an international field of professionals. Hideki is the third ever amateur winner on the Japan pro tour.
Clemson’s Corbin Mills will be dealing with some personal challenges besides Augusta’s famed undulating greens. Corbin’s grandfather, Boyd, who treated him to a trip to watch the Masters a few years ago, passed away earlier this month. Mills will have help and support from caddy Jordan Byrd, who sometimes carries the bag for PGA Tour pro and brother, Jonathan Byrd.
This year’s crop of amateur champions has proven they’re worthy to walk the hallowed fairways of Augusta National. There are no doubt going to be some very interesting conversations up in the Crow’s Nest at the Masters next week, as these steely competitors compare notes on amateur status, turning pro, and most of all, measuring themselves against the field in the first major of 2012. The most compelling question is where their respective roads will lead beyond Augusta. Stay tuned.