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Masters 2022: Amateurs enjoy Tiger rejections, wearing PJs in the Crow's Nest and managing nerves

April 06, 2022

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Despite the steeped tradition of amateur golfers playing in the Masters, rarely does the No. 1-ranked amateur each April actually compete at Augusta National. It first happened in 2011 with Peter Uihlein and then again in 2017 with Curtis Luck.

Japan’s Keita Nakajima will make it three since the inception of the WAGR in 2007, and there is a genuine hype surrounding his presence in Georgia. The 21-year-old has won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, the Japan Amateur and the Australian Amateur. He has been No. 1 in the WAGR for the last 50 weeks, and 63 weeks total in his career. He’s also spent much of the last two years playing events on the Japan Pro Tour, winning once and posting four other top-10 finishes. Then there’s the T-28 at the PGA Tour’s Zozo Championship last fall and a 41st-place showing at the Sony Open in January. It’s why Nakajima ranks 239th in the Official World Golf Ranking, the only amateur inside the top 390.

Back in Dubai at the AAC, Nakajima spoke openly about the pressure he felt trying to win so that he could compete at Augusta the same year that countryman Hideki Matsuyama. He handled it in grand fashion, shooting 64-65 in the final two rounds to fulfill his dream. This bodes well considering the pressure he says he’s feeling this week as well.

“I'm nervous. I'm nervous playing in front of many fans,” Nakajima said. “All I'm trying to achieve is do my best, focus on my preparation. I know lots of people support me, so I want to do my best for them as well. I haven't set a result goal yet, but I just want to do my best.”

Unspoken is the hope that his “best” will result in Nakajima sitting beside Masters Chairman Fred Ridley in the Butler Cabin on Sunday and being recognized as low amateur before the green jacket is slipped on the overall champion. Nakajima's track record—good enough for TaylorMade to make him the first top amateur golfer to sign name, image and likeness equipment deal since the change to the amateur rules—makes him the favorite among the six amateurs competing this week.

In 2021, just three amateurs competed in the Masters and none made the cut—only the second time in the last 12 years that’s happened. So who among the six is most capable of playing 72 holes this week? Here’s a peek at the players, in alphabetical order, along with a look at their chances of making the cut.

Austin Greaser, 21, Vandalia, Ohio

JD Cuban

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 25
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur runner-up
Odds of making the cut: 6-1
Skinny: When the University of North Carolina junior played on Monday, he said it was his seventh trip around Augusta National since qualifying last August. But he also said that the experience was “100 percent” different with fans and with the course in tournament shape. “It's very cool, though, right, so it's exactly what you would imagine, exactly what you dream of. Honestly it boils down to the way you execute shots doesn't change. Maybe get some claps along with it, but you've still got to execute, still got to get out there and play your game plan and see how it goes.” … Greaser is like a lot of modern amateurs, hitting the ball long off the tee. But he says his biggest asset this week is his putting. “I grew up in the Midwest on bentgrass greens, so these greens are very comfortable to me, and I think I can read them pretty well, too, so we'll see what happens at the end of the week, but I definitely feel pretty comfortable on the greens. It's not easy but comfortable”

Stewart Hagestad, 30, Los Angeles

Adam Glanzman

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 16
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: U.S. Mid-Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 3-1
Skinny: Hagestad has proved he knows how to make the cut in the Masters, doing just that in his one previous appearance in 2017. At that time, he also ended the “Mid-Amateur” jinx—no golfer who played in the Masters by virtual of winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur (which Hagestad first won in 2016) had ever previously made the cut. Asked about how he feels coming in this year compared to the last time, Hagestad had an interesting, if obvious, response: “I think the biggest difference is the first time around you don't really know what you don't know, and this time you have a little bit better understanding of what it's going to feel like and what sort of moments or shots your adrenaline is going to be up.” … Impressively, this is the fifth career major Hagestad will be playing, after playing in the U.S. Open in 2017, 2018 and 2019. His comfort level, then, should actually be the best of all the amateur playing this week. … Hagestad is set to get an MBA degree from USC in May and will start to work for a private equity firm in Chicago.

Aaron Jarvis, 19, Cayman Islands

Adam Glanzman

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 825
PGA Tour University ranking:
N/A
How he qualified:
Latin America Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut:
10-1
Skinny:
A UNLV freshman, Jarvis is the first golfer from the Cayman Islands to ever compete in the Masters. He was ranked 1,669 in the WAGR when he became an upset winner of the Latin America Amateur in January. Suffice it to say, Jarvis is trying to make the most of his Masters opportunity. On Sunday, he and U.S. Amateur champion James Piot were playing a practice round and making the turn when they noticed Tiger Woods jump ahead of them on the 10th tee. On the 11th tee, Jarvis approached Woods, hoping perhaps the two of them could join him. Woods politely said he wanted to play alone. Jarvis was proud of himself for giving it a shot: “You know, there's no better ‘no’ from … or better rejection from Tiger Woods, right? … It was pretty cool seeing him playing in front of me. And after the round I got to talk to him and [caddie] Joe [LaCava] for 10 minutes or so, and it was just incredible.”

Keita Nakajima, 21, Japan

Jamie Squire

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 1
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: Asia-Pacific Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 2-1
Skinny: How good is Nakajima’s game? In five of his eight rounds in PGA Tour events, he’s shot in the 60s. After his performance at the Sony Open in January, he was ranked as high as 188th in the OWGR.

James Piot, 23, Canton, Mich.

Ben Walton

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 60
PGA Tour University ranking: 42
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 8-1
Skinny: The reigning U.S. Amateur champion is soaking up the experience. He’s spent three nights this week in the Crow’s Nest, waking up at 8 a.m. on Monday morning only to realize how busy things already were in the clubhouse. “Yeah, I still didn't know the deal, if I could go down in my PJs or something like that. I woke up at 8, and I already saw some of the big names teeing off, and I'm like, ‘oh, man, I've got to get going. Rush through your routine and get going.' So it was really awesome.” Since winning the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont last August, Piot has had a so-so senior season at Michigan State; in eight starts he’s had one top-10 finish (a victory at the Island Resort Intercollegiate in September). He played his first pro event at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last month, missing the cut with back-to-back 78s.

Laird Shepherd, 24, Scotland

Luke Walker/R&A

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 47
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: British Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 12-1
Skinny: Shepherd qualified for the Masters with his historic British Amateur win at Nairn last June. He was 8 down after 17 holes in the 36-hole championship match with Monty Scowsill, 7 down with 14 holes to play and 4 down with four to play, only to win the final four holes and then win on the second hole of sudden death. The dramatic turnaround was made more poignant given his backstory: He had knee surgery in 2018 and suffered from back issues that seemed to set his career back. After graduating from the University of Sterling in June 2020, he worked in a Tesco call center to help pay his bills during the COVID lockdown. … Shepherd has struggled some in his pro appearances since his big win: He missed the cut at Royal St. George’s and the Open Championship last July and has made just one cut in four DP World Tour starts in 2021.