AUGUSTA, GA.—It was just past noon today when Dave Womack’s Masters week finally became “official.” Under the famed oak tree outside the Augusta National clubhouse, the 28-year-old reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion hurriedly tore off the green wrapper on a pimento-cheese sandwich his wife had just given him and gobbled up his first bite.
“The funny thing is I haven’t had one of these all week,” Womack said after swallowing. “Now I know I’m really at the Masters.”
Oh, he’s really here alright, as are the other four amateur participants—U.S. Amateur champ Richie Ramsay and runner-up John Kelly, Amateur Public Links winner Casey Watabu and British Amateur titleholder Julien Guerrier—competing in the 71st Masters this week. Mind you, a Georgian delicacy wasn’t needed to confirm this. The 45,000 fans roaming the grounds the past three days took care of that.
The irony is that each of the five have waited what’s seemed like an eternity for Masters week to finally arrive, only to see the first three days pass quicker than you can say Amen Corner. “I’ve got to keep reminding myself to slow down,” said Kelly prior to competing in the Par-3 Contest. “It feels like every minute takes two seconds. I’ve got to take every moment in stride. That’s going to be one thing I have to work on, being patient.”
As was the case a year ago, the fivesome playing for pride, not pay, as 2007’s first major kicks off Thursday are far from household names to even the biggest of golf fans. Most well known is Ramsay, thanks to his victory over Kelly in the finals of last August’s U.S. Amateur at Hazeltine National, which made the 23-year-old the first Scot to win the Havemeyer Trophy since 1898.
By his own admission, Ramsay has been know to run as hot as an Augusta afternoon
](http://www.golfdigest.com/majors/masters/index.ssf?/majors/masters/gw20070330ramsay.html), although he says that he’s had success in keeping his temper under control. His Masters week got off to a good start when he won $10 off Masters champion Phil Mickelson in a friendly nine-hole match Sunday afternoon.
“He strikes the ball solid and has a great touch around the greens,” Mickelson said. “I expect him to have a great week. He’s a very enjoyable guy to be around and has a great personality to be around and I think we’re going to going to have a fun couple of days being paired together as is tradition.”
Kelly, a 22-year-old marketing major at Missouri, has had a so-so senior season on the course (just two top 10s in eight starts and a 75.2 average). When asked if his pending play at Augusta National had been a distraction, he said no. “A lot of that I attribute to school. That gets in the way of the game,” he said with a wry smile. “But I’ve been putting a lot of time the last month, month and a half into my game. Tomorrow is the test.”
Womack is the Georgia native who said last September as he made his charge to the Mid-Amateur title that he would ride his bike down I-20 if he got a Masters invite. Suffice it to say he managed to find a few folks who would give him a lift from his home in McDonough 120 miles away and learned the way by virtue of nine different visits to the course prior to the tournament.
“It’s playing firm [now] and it’s going to keep playing that way,” said the reinstated amateur turned insurance salesman. “It’s going to be tough. The other times I came over it was playing real soft.”
Watabu, 23, is a Hawaii native finished up his studies at the University of Nevada this fall and has been biding his time until the first full week of April. He finished third in the Hawaii state amateur last month then made his way to Georgia with his family.
“I didn’t really feel that nervous until Monday,” he told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “Playing with Gary Player was an honor. I didn't even know he had played in so many Masters before. He was very helpful, telling me where I wanted to be and not to be. You have to position your ball on this golf course, or you'll get into a lot of trouble.”
For Guerrier, 21, the Masters marks his final tournament as an amateur. The Frenchman will make his pro debut next week at the PGA Tour’s MCI Heritage in Hilton Head Island.
In 2006 no amateur made the Masters cut, just the third time in nine years at least one wasn’t playing all four rounds of the tournament. Given the relative inexperience of this year’s group in professional events, it quite likely none of them will be joining the tournament champion and club chairman Billy Payne in the Butler Cabin come Sunday evening.
If any of the five have a chance, it is probably Ramsay, who has played in front of decent size crowds at the U.S. Amateur and the Walker Cup two years ago at Chicago GC. If he were to make the cut, he would be the first amateur from the U.K. to do so since Peter McEvoy in 1978.
“I’ve just enjoyed coming here and getting that ‘wow factor’ out of the way and, now it's Masters time, I’m ready to get on and start the tournament,” Ramsay said. “There'll be nerves there, I think that's probably to be expected. But I’m fortunate I’ve played in big tournaments before and I know what to expect. Hopefully I can focus on that first tee shot and get it out of the way.”