AUGUSTA, Ga.--No one really expects much out of Florida State's Drew Kittleson and Michigan State's Jack Newman this week at the Masters. Not that they haven't been playing well this year for their respective schools; Kittleson has a 72.15 stroke average; Newman a 72.41 mark. It's just that the track record of college players (or amateurs in general) at Augusta National has been pretty dreadful of late.
Indeed, not since since UNLV's Ryan Moore and Vanderbilt's Luke List finished T-13 and T-33 in 2005 has a college player made the cut at the Masters. Only eight have done so since 2000 (see list below).
The toughest thing for collegians to overcome in coming to the year's first major is handling the atmosphere that surrounds the event. The history and lore of the Masters is so huge that it often overwhelms the players. In an interview I did with Billy Mayfair a few years back, he talked about his first experience at Augusta National after winning the U.S. Amateur in 1988. After playing his practice rounds early in the week, Mayfair thought he was all set for his opening round Thursday. Yet as he took a few steps out of the clubhouse to greet defending champion Larry Mize on the first tee suddenly his legs "wouldn't work."
"The pressure is tremendous," Mayfair said. "The mystique, the history, it's all so intimidating."
The same will no doubt be the case for Kittleson and Newman--not to mention the other amateurs in the field, U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, U.S. Mid-Am winner Steve Wilson and British Amateur champ Reinier Saxton. Neither of the two has played in a professional event before, much less a major championship.
"The biggest crowd ''ve ever play in front of is probably the 500 or 600 people who followed us at the Pub Links final," says Newman, 21, a Des Moines, Iowa native in his junior year at Michigan State. "I'll have a huge learning curve."
All that said, I think this year's group of amateurs puts an end to the recent curse and has not just one but two players play all 72 holes. I like Lee's chances (he has already won a European Tour event as an amateur) and I think Kittleson will stand up to the pressure and contend for low amateur honors come Sunday.
__College players to make the Masters cut (since 1990):
__Ryan Moore, UNLV, 2005 (T-13)
Luke List, Vanderbilt, 2005 (T-33)
Casey Wittenberg, Oklahoma State, 2004 (T-13)
Brandt Snedeker, Vanderbilt, 2004 (T-41)
Ricky Barnes, Arizona, 2003 (21st)
Hunter Mahan, Oklahoma State, 2003 (T-28)
Ryan Moore, UNLV, 2003 (T-45)
David Gossett, Texas, 2000 (T-54)