Do you remember being 16, when everything was easy and impossible at the same time? When you’re 16, your whole life happens in a day. And then it does it again the next day. And the next one. And your parents begin to worry that you’re unstable. And you are pretty sure that they’re the ones who are unstable.
I thought of 16 as I sat down to come up with my next major-championship prediction that has no chance of being right. I thought of the futility of it, the farce it had become, the drudgery of being so sure of your own incompetence. And I thought of how little I’ve changed since I was 16 and, obviously, what 16-year-old Anna Davis showed us about what impossible looks like at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur when you’re on the right side of 16. And because Anna Davis showed us that the most important thing about impossible is the part that comes after the prefix, I set out to make a run at my own vision of impossible.
And I failed miserably. Again.
Makes sense. Like I said, my version of 16 was not Anna Davis’. And I certainly hope my version of “not 16” will not be Anna Davis’, either. Like Anna Davis, I did not have my driver’s license at 16. Unlike Anna Davis, it was because I failed the driving test. Well, not actually the driving test, the vision part of the driving test. (The fact that I started my adult life without the ability to see the obvious should shock no one.) But mostly what Davis’ win showed me in my Masters pick process is that predictions in golf—or in life—are a joke. The old saws don't hold anymore: That you need experience to win at Augusta National, that you can’t bogey the par 5s late and win at Augusta National (although Hideki Matsuyama showed us that last year), that you can’t be over the green at 17 in two and get up and down at Augusta National, that you can’t be the 100th ranked player in the world and win at Augusta National, that you can’t be a 16-year-old bucket-hat wearing iCarly lookalike and win at Augusta National. I believe the expression is “OK, boomer.” Or is it “sus”?
Anna Davis hits her tee shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the 2022 Augusta National Women's Amateur.
But I digress. I’m pretty sure that what I’m trying to say is that Anna Davis showed us that winning at Augusta National requires a bit of the 16 that lives in all of us. There’s a weird mix of overconfidence and uncertainty and obliviousness that lies at the root of success.
What Davis demonstrated was the fact that there’s the self-belief that youth has that is required on the grandest stages, a self-belief that goes beyond the factual evidence. In a way it’s like competitive eating or Dude Perfect or whatever Impractical Jokers is. When the old neighbor reading his paper on his porch shouts at the hesitant Jimmy Stewart on his walk with Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life” that “Youth is wasted on the wrong people!” it is not an attack. It’s a lament, a wish for the electrifying grabbing-hold of opportunity. It’s eating ice cream because you don’t care about calories or sugar or high cholesterol, but you want to know forever what a summer Friday night tastes like.
I’m not saying there’s a wild irreverence that’s required for success at Augusta National, a cocksure swagger that usually just means you’re overcompensating to prove something to others that you don’t even believe yourself. I’m saying the champions at Augusta National became champions because at the moments that mattered they knew who they were long before they came down Magnolia Lane.
That’s why Anna Davis’s credentials, her bona fides to go full boomer on you, were established in ways that go beyond the facts. When you win a big event by seven shots (like she did at the PGA Girls Junior), and you play on an international team (like she did at the Junior Solheim Cup), you have a pretty good idea of who you are. Even at 16. So seeing how her game was enough to beat a whole field of players who thought for sure they were better than her, I figured why not apply the same logic to my Masters pick. Why not pick someone who has no chance to win but knows exactly who he is?
Great Masters winners (Hogan, Snead, Palmer, Nicklaus, Player, Watson, Faldo, Woods, in particular) were self-assured, self-reliant types. Rarely was any moment too big for them because they could always take refuge in the confidence of knowing their game and playing it. By contrast, many of today’s great players, those who’ve come up short at the Masters, are caught up in plans and expectations and analytics of some kind or another. "Be water, my friend," Bruce Lee once famously said, but what’s forgotten is that he prefaced that imperative with the equally valuable edict “Empty your mind.” (For what it’s worth, this is slightly different than my general approach to life events, which is more like “Empty your bowels” and “Be generalized anxiety disorder.”)
So this is the new me, all set to break my 0-for-lifetime record of selecting the winners of major championships. With Anna Davis as my guide, I looked to inexperience coupled with overwhelming but highly unrelated individual success for my formula this go-round.
Using the ideas of Davis’s multi-shot victory within the year and her membership on an international team as a backdrop, I winnowed down the field from its current 91 to just six players who had accomplished similar feats. That took out most of the favorites, even when my definition of a multi-shot victory was kept to wins of three strokes or more and “international” team included Palmer Cups, Eisenhower Cups and Aruba Cups. Of course, the Aruba Cup sounds like the kind of international team competition Harry Higgs would have invented if it didn’t already exist, which is why he’s the only player in this year’s field with that august team event listed on his resume. The mind races at what formats might have been involved in the Aruba Cup and whether the final scores had anything to do with the golf being played.
My special six included a couple of guys who might have a legitimate shot at winning, like Viktor Hovland and Sam Burns. Both exude that youthful joy and confidence where they seem less impressed with legacy and more about just winning or at least having a go at it. I didn’t pick them, of course. I also could have chosen Sungjae Im, who finished T-2 in 2020. I also did not. In picking up on the Anna Davis effect, I chose someone in my group of six who had a multi-shot win (by nine, and at an upcoming U.S. Open site, no less), played on an international team (victorious) and, perhaps most authentically (and idiotically) who had the least amount of major championship experience. I do not know if he’s worn a bucket hat before, but he seems the type who just might.
Other than that, or because of it, this choice makes no sense. He’s not even all that young, technically. But there is this youthfulness about him, a guy who has a day job but still hits balls every day, like he hasn’t accepted that adulthood has begun. (Truthfully, none of us should. Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may, seize the day, carpe your goldarn diem, and all that.) He even once referred to his pending MBA graduation status during a Golf Channel interview as “summa cum barely.” (Bruh, as the dudes might say.) He has so little chance that on the Masters website IBM Watson projects he’ll shoot 77 in the opening round. But IBM Watson has no joy, no belief in the impossible. It projects Bernhard Langer will shoot 85. Langer will shoot 85 at the Masters when he turns 85, and that will only happen because he bounces five shots off flagsticks into ponds on the back nine.
U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Stewart Hagestad
I don’t think Stewart Hagestad, the 30-year-old reigning U.S. Mid-Amateur champion who was low amateur in his one previous start here in 2017, will shoot 77 at the Masters. I think “youth,” specifically the “youth” of Anna Davis, is waiting out there for all of us to find and seize and carpe. She reminded us of that with her win. Hagestad just might, too. I really believe that. That's why he's my pick this year.
Or I could just be overdoing my meds. Sue me. You get younger your way, I’ll get younger mine.
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