AUGUSTA, Ga — A friend asked me what I was going to write about in my annual “Amateurs at the Masters” story now that “The Jinx”™ is over.
Yes, I trademarked “The Jinx”™, or at least thought long and hard about it before coming to the conclusion that Augusta National is armed with a finely skilled legal department and I have only Google and spotty Internet service at my disposal. Not really a fair fight.
“The Jinx” of course refers to the streak of 28 straight years that the U.S. Mid-Amateur champion had been invited to compete in the Masters only to fail to make the 36-hole cut. Another way to say 28 years is every year since Augusta National first guaranteed a spot to the Mid-Am champ. But 12 months ago, Stewart Hagestad, a 25-year-old future hedge-fund manager, stared “The Jinx” in the face and “The Jinx” blinked.
Never fear, however. “The Jinx” might have ended, but “the hopeful story of a U.S. Mid-Amateur champion trying to make the patrons at Augusta National and golf fans everywhere proud” remains very much alive in the form of Matt Parziale.
The 30-year-old Parziale is a former mini-tour pro turned firefighter from Brockton, Mass. A firefighter … playing the Masters (!?!). Yep, that doesn’t happen very often. Generally speaking, U.S. Mid-Amateur champs tend to be future hedge-fund-manager types, or at least white-collar office guys with flexibility hours.
Parziale’s story has garnered plenty of attention, including from our own John Strege. On Monday, Parziale came into the press building to talk more to the media. He answered questions about his job, humbly downplaying the danger aspect he faces every day. Turns out, Parziale did apparently make a concession to his occupation, taking a leave of absence from Brockton Ladder Company 1 in recent weeks so that he could make sure that an on-the-job injury didn’t cause him to go on the DL for the biggest tournament of his life.
Safe to say no future head-fund-manager type had to ask for a leave of absence from his job for fearing of tearing a cuticle with a binder clip.
The question now, of course, is whether Parziale takes inspiration from Hagestad (a friend of his on the mid-amateur circuit) and plays his way to the weekend at Augusta. If he doesn’t there’s a decent chance one of the other five amateurs in the field does. Seven times in the last eight years a player has made the cut and taken home the low amateur trophy on Sunday.
Who then is the most likely to join Fred Ridley and the new Masters champ in Butler Cabin? Here’s a peek, in alphabetical order, at the six candidates.
Harry Ellis, 22, England
__How he qualified: British Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 3 to 1
Skinny: While “The Jinx” has always been associated with the U.S. Mid-Amateur winner, past British Amateur champs have struggled to make the Masters cut, too. Only three have managed the trick in the last 30 years (Sergio Garcia in 1999, Matteo Manassero in 2010 and Romain Langasque in 2016, with Manassero’s T-36 being the best finish). Ellis, a senior at Florida State, admits that he’s played distracted this season, but he’s still managed a career-best 71.35 average and a share of two individual titles. It’s a hunch, but says here his form can help him buck history and having him sticking around for the weekend.
Doug Ghim, 21, Arlington Heights, Ill.
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur runner-up
Odds of making the cut: 4 to 1
Skinny: Ghim was the hard-luck runner-up last August at Riviera Country Club to Doc Redman, but University of Texas senior’s consolation prizes included a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team and this invite to Augusta. He’s played Augusta National a few times this year in preparation for the event, writing copious notes in a yardage book. When the book went missing earlier this week (it accidentally fell out of caddie/dad Jeff's caddie bib), there was a mild panic in the Ghim camp. It was thankfully found, though, on Tuesday. With it in hand, Ghim has a good shot of using it through Sunday.
Lin Yuxin, 17, China
How he qualified: Asia Pacific Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 6 to 1
Skinny: The left-hander became the third golfer from China to win the Asia Pacific Am, and he did it in pretty amazing fashion, going birdie-eagle on the last two holes to post a closing 65 and take the title. Lin has lots of experience playing in professional events in Asia as an amateur, which should help his nerves. He says he hopes to use the week as a learning process as he prepares to come to the U.S. and play college golf at USC in the fall, but you get the feeling he’s not here just to soak up the experience. His sneaky length and laid-back demeanor give you reason to believe he could claim low amateur honors.
Joaquin Niemann, 19, Chile
How he qualified: Latin America Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 6 to 1
__Skinny:__The current No. 1 ranked amateur in the world is a raw talent, emphasis in the short term on raw, the long term on talent. Niemann was going polish his game by playing college golf at South Florida, but a academic testing snafu short-circuited his enrollment. Rather than retake the test, Niemann decided he’d turn pro … until he had to delay that plan when he won the Latin America Amateur title in January (he’ll make his debut at the Valero Texas Open next month). He’s already got experience playing in a major, missing the cut after playing his way into the U.S. Open at Erin Hills. The biggest question now is whether distractions of turning pro and the bright lights of playing at Augusta conspire against him this week.
Matt Parziale, 30, Brockton, Mass.
How he qualified: U.S. Mid-Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 8 to 1
Skinny: It’s not his game you should be worried about, Parziale is a talented enough golfer. It’s the stage. Playing in the Masters is heady stuff for any amateur, let alone one who’s been on a five-plus-month joy ride since his Mid-Am triumph. More than any of the other amateurs, Parziale had been inundated with media requests prior to coming to Augusta. The weight of the moment may well become an issue. Then again, the guy fights fires for a living. There’s no greater pressure than that.
Doc Redman, 20, Raleigh, N.C.
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 10 to 1
Skinny: Redman’s comeback victory in the final of the U.S. Amateur at Riviera last August was an instance classic—2 down with two holes to play, he went eagle-birdie-birdie. Following up on the triumph, however, has been tough for the Clemson sophomore. He’s played just four college events and only has one top-15 finish to show for it (that coming last fall). Redman had to be encouraged with making the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, and his attitude is a good one too. “No matter how I play, it’s not going to change anything. It’s going to be a success no matter what, if I make the cut or come in dead last. I’m just going to go out and enjoy myself and try to learn as much as possible.” His ace in the hole is his putting; Clemson coach Larry Penley says he’s the best to ever come through the school. He’s going to need to show that if he wants to play four rounds this week at Augusta.