Magnificant Seven

Masters 2023: A speed freak, a swaggy senior and a viral star—Meet this year’s Augusta amateurs

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Patrick Smith

It’s a streak that needs ending, or at least that’s how seven proud men playing for pride rather than a payday this week at the 87th Masters see it. For two years running, Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley has been unable to hand out the trophy that goes to the low amateur during Sunday’s awards ceremony as no amateur made the cut in 2021 or 2022. The last time the Masters went three straight years without an amateur playing 72 holes was 2013-2015.

That said, there are a couple of highly ranked players who appear more than capable of preventing the three-peat. Gordon Sargent, a sophomore at Vanderbilt, is the reigning NCAA champion and No. 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. After being stopped early in the week by a security guard who wondered if he was a participant in the Drive Chip and Putt competition, the 19-year-old from Birmingham, Ala., has proceeded to impress just about everybody whose seen his swing at Augusta.

During a Monday practice round with Max Homa and Justin Thomas, Sargent was routinely driving it past the two PGA Tour standouts. “Phenomenal golfer. Really nice kid. Hits it 95 miles. He was so far by us it's crazy,” Homa said on Tuesday. “Doesn't look like he's going at it that hard. I've heard so many good things about his game. It was probably even more impressive to see him in person.”

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Gordon Sargent proved he could keep up with PGA Tour winners Max Homa and Justin Thomas off the tee during their Monday practice round.

Christian Petersen

Indeed, Sargent is just 6-feet tall and weighs all of 175 pounds. But he’s among the longest players in college golf, with an average ball speed of 185 miles per hour that tops out at nearly 200. After Rory McIlroy saw that up close and in person on Tuesday, playing a practice round with him, he too described Sargent as among the best amateurs he's ever seen. 

Sargent’s results are equally eye-opening. He’s won four times in 15 college starts for the Commodores, with his worst finish being a T-7. His stroke average in 22 rounds during the 2022-23 season is 68.0 with a high score of 72. The numbers were so impressive that Augusta National gave him a special invitation to compete in the event, the first time it had done so for an amateur since Aaron Baddeley in 2000.

“It shows that they think you can compete with the best in the world,” Sargent recently told PGATour.com, “and I am … looking forward to testing my game at that level.”

Before handing Sargent low amateur honors, however, there’s another top American who would like to have a word. Sam Bennett, a fifth-year senior at Texas A&M, is the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and is a former World No. 1 who’s currently ranked sixth. He exudes a bit of cockiness that was on display at New Jersey's Ridgewood Country Club last August, where he noted frequently how no one was giving him much of a chance to win the Havemayer Trophy—despite the fact he was touted among the pre-tournament favorites. When he pulled off the win, he showed that pressure is something he can handle.

Keep in mind, too, that Bennett has played in a major before, qualifying for last year’s U.S. Open at The Country Club and making the cut, finishing T-49.

“I feel like I'm prepared, got some good work in,” Bennett said. “It's cool being an amateur. I'm going to have fun. I'm not here to treat it like a hit and giggle. I'm here to compete and test my game.”

Same with the other five amateurs competing at Augusta. Here's a look at everybody who is trying to have Ridley hand him the low amateur trophy come Sunday.

Sam Bennett, 23, Madisonville, Texas

Sam Bennett

Grant Halverson

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 6
PGA Tour University ranking: 4
How he qualified: U.S. Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 5-1
Skinny: Bennett’s father, Mark, passed away in 2020 after suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s but is a constant inspiration to Sam. “Don’t wait to do something,” Mark wrote in the last note to his son, who had that message tattooed on his left forearm. … Sitting fourth in the PGA Tour University ranking of outgoing seniors, if Bennett can stay in the top five after the NCAA Championship in June, he’ll lock up a Korn Ferry Tour card for the rest of the year.

Ben Carr, 22, Columbus, Ga.

Ben Carr, Will Wilcox

Grant Halverson

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 26
PGA Tour University ranking:
21
How he qualified:
U.S. Amateur runner-up
Odds of making the cut: 10-1
Skinny: In his fifth year at Georgia Southern and born and raised in the Peach State, Carr will likely be the amateur with the most patrons pulling for him this week. “All my family and a lot of my friends will be there. [Augusta National] actually gave us a lot of tickets so it’s pretty special,” said Carr. “I spread [the tickets] out as best I could.” Twice before Carr himself had tickets to the Masters, both times for a Monday practice round and both times rained out by 11 a.m. This Monday, he got to stay all day and had his college teammates with him as they played in a tournament in Augusta over the weekend. … Carr has had the benefit of playing practice rounds this week with two other golfers from his hometown, former champion Larry Mize and Russell Henley; the trio will be pair during Wednesday’s Par-3 Contest. … With six top-15 finishes in seven college starts this season, including a win at the Schenkel Invitational.

Harrison Crowe, 21, Australia

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Australian pros Cameron Smith and Adam Scott played with countryman Harrison Crowe, the Asia Pacific Amateur champ, during Tuesday's practice round at Augusta.

JD CUBAN

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 33
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: Asia-Pacific Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 12-1
Skinny: The Aussie is likely unfamiliar to American golf fans, unless they recall an incredible trick shot he pulled off in St. Andrews in 2021, caught on camera and turned into a viral video. Crowe managed to hit a ball from the sidewalk next to the Dunvegan Pub on to the green of the 18th hole at the Old Course, clearing the buildings along Golf Place in the process. Suffice it to say, Crowe is not above having a good time, now is his father, Tony. For every birdie Harrison makes this week at Augusta National during the Masters, Tony and others staying in the rental house with the Crowes, will have to drink a beer. Says Harrison: “The idea is to get these guys having as good a time as I am without getting themselves in trouble as well.”

Mateo Fernandez de Olivera, 23, Argentina

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Patrick Smith

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 25
PGA Tour University ranking: 14
How he qualified: Latin America Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 15-1
Skinny: The fifth-year senior at Arkansas had put together an impressive college and amateur résumé but was missing a “big” victory until his January triumph in Puerto Rico at the LAAC. The win got him into the Masters as well as this summer’s U.S. Open and Open Championship. “I know I can do well, I just need to manage the expectations,” Fernandez de Oliveira said. “If it’s a tough stretch, I will need to handle it the way I always do it. If it’s a good stretch, just take advantage of it and just enjoy the moment.” … An extra reason to like his chances of playing all four rounds? His caddie is countryman Ruben Yorio, who was on the bag for Angel Cabrera during his 2009 Masters victory.

Matthew McClean, 29, Northern Ireland

Matthew McClean

Steven Gibbons

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 70
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: U.S. Mid-Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 18-1
Skinny: Augusta National is an impressive site for all the amateurs competing this week, but particularly McClean given he’s a trained optometrist (Get it … impressive site!) He was the first player from Northern Ireland to win the USGA’s 25-and-older championship, beating out another Irishman in Hugh Foley in the championship match at Wisconsin’s Erin Hills. As a consolation, Foley came with McClean when they played a practice round at Augusta in January. McClean also has a tee time in this summer’s U.S. Open and is likely to be a pick for the Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team that plays at St. Andrews in September. Afterward, he’s likely to turn pro and go to DP World Tour Q School, which he was considering back in before the COVID pandemic in 2020. But first things first at Augusta: "I want to enjoy it, but my goal for the week is to make the cut. It is going to be extremely difficult with the standard of players playing and the occasion, but I will try to play as good as I can and hopefully it works out."

Aldrich Potgieter, 18, South Africa

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Patrick Smith

World Amateur Golf Ranking: 32
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: British Amateur champion
Odds of making the cut: 15-1
Skinny: The South African, who spent time growing up in Australia, had never played golf in the U.K. until just weeks before last year’s British Amateur, then proceeded to become the event’s second-youngest winner. That earned him an invite into last year’s Open Championship at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut. He’s struggled in three other starts in DP World Tour events, missing two cuts and finishing T-59 in the third. … That said, he’s in good form of late. He came to the U.S. early and claimed a 10-shot win at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley in South Carolina two weeks ago. He then took down U.S. Amateur champ Sam Bennett with a convincing 5-and-4 win in the annual Georgia Cup.

Gordon Sargent, 20, Birmingham, Ala.

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World Amateur Golf Ranking: 1
PGA Tour University ranking: N/A
How he qualified: Special invitation
Odds of making the cut: 2-1
Skinny: Sargent is just the fourth amateur to play in the Masters while holding the top-spot in the WAGR since the ranking’s inception in 2007, joining Peter Uihlein (2011), Curtis Luck (2017) and Keita Nakajima (2022). … The Vandy undergrad wasn’t expecting the call when a Masters official phoned in January to tell that he was getting a special invitation. “I didn’t recognize the number, but it said ‘Augusta National’ under the phone number, so I was like, ‘I have to answer this,’” said Sargent, who even after the conversation wasn’t entirely sure he wasn’t being pranked until Googling the name of the person who called him to confirm his connection to Augusta National.

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