2006: Amateurs gain valuable lessons

Augusta, Ga.

Dillon Dougherty didn’t make the cut, but he did make a friend.

The bond with another player in his pairing was forged after Dougherty signed for a second-round 78 that left him 16 over par in his Masters debut.

“If you don’t mind, there’s two or three things I’d like to show you that will make you a better player,” Gary Player told Dougherty.

It was an offer the Northwestern University senior dared not refuse. After all, how often does a college kid get one-on-one time with a career Grand Slam winner, a sage who owns three Masters victories in 49 starts.

They marched straight to the range, where Player dispensed wisdom for nearly an hour.

“That was the coolest part of the week,” Dougherty said. “To spend an hour with Gary Player, talking about golf and how it should be played. He told me I could be a great player. That’s a confidence-builder.”

Player said he was impressed by Dougherty’s demeanor and saw potential.

“We all need help in life,” said Player, noting that his father borrowed money to buy him his first set of golf clubs. “I corrected two or three of his faults and he was striping it like a superstar.”

Dougherty was in the field thanks to his runner-up finish at the 2005 U.S. Amateur. Of the five amateurs, British Amateur champ Brian McElhinney posted the best 36-hole score, 11-over-par 155. He missed out on a low amateur medal, however, since those are reserved for contestants who make the cut.

The deck was stacked against this fivesome. Augusta National had been lengthened and narrowed, yielding only six scores in the 60s through 36 holes. Because amateurs earn their way to Augusta via match-play tournaments, they don’t necessarily represent the cream of the amateur crop. This year’s class was largely unheralded.

Edoardo Molinari, the U.S. Amateur champion from Italy, finished 13 over (157). Clay Ogden, the Brigham Young University junior who won the 2005 U.S. Public Links, was 15 over. Kevin Marsh, the 33-year-old U.S. Mid-Amateur winner from California, was 16 over.

Marsh said he and the others rehashed their opening rounds and commiserated into the wee hours Friday morning in the Crows Nest, the spartan third-floor Augusta National clubhouse dormitory that houses the amateurs.

“It’s a blow to your ego,” Marsh said. “Nobody likes to shoot 80. I don’t care if it’s the U.S. Open, the Masters, or your member-guest.”

The amateurs generally were confounded by the subtleties of Augusta’s putting surfaces and green surrounds.

“Any time you miss to the wrong side, you’re in trouble,” Molinari said. “Every time I missed, I had an impossible chip.”

But everyone agreed that their scores were secondary to the experience. Each was paired with a past Masters champion: Dougherty and Player; Marsh and Craig Stadler; Ogden and Ben Crenshaw; McElhinney and Tom Watson; Molinari and Tiger Woods. Michael Campbell, the U.S. Open champ, rounded out McElhinney’s threesome.

“It was brilliant,” said McElhinney, a low-key Irishman who’s known as “The Terminator” for his match-play prowess.

Molinari shrugged when asked if he was disappointed about not being low amateur. “It doesn’t make a difference if you don’t make the cut,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the next few months. This experience will really help.”

Molinari, 25, was slated to play this week’s PGA Tour’s Verizon Heritage on a sponsor exemption, then the Italian Open on the PGA European Tour. He has invitations to the Colonial and Memorial before the U.S. Open, then will play Loch Lomond and the British Open before going pro.

Ogden, 21, of BYU and Dougherty, 23, of Northwestern next turn their attention to NCAA Championship regionals in May.

Ogden has a busy tournament schedule planned, including the Palmer Cup, Utah Amateur, U.S. Public Links, Porter Cup, Pacific Coast Amateur and U.S. Amateur. Dougherty said he is undecided about turning pro after the U.S. Open. “I’ll have to see how motivated I am to play amateur golf,” he said.

McElhinney, 23, said he’ll likely compete as an amateur for at least another year.

Marsh, a commercial real estate developer in Las Vegas, is “right in the middle of building a shopping center” so he doesn’t expect to compete a lot this summer, although the British Amateur, U.S. Open, Pacific Coast Amateur and defense of his Mid-Amateur crown are on the calendar. He is pointing more toward 2007.

“I want to show Buddy (captain Buddy Marucci) I can play for the Walker Cup team,” Marsh said.

“I know I’m good enough. I know I’m one of the best amateurs in the country. I just have to play more often.”















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