Amateurs don’t often play in the Masters twice, especially 12 years apart. But then Gary Wolstenholme is no ordinary amateur golfer.
Wolstenholme, 43, booked his second trip courtesy of his second British Amateur victory last June at Royal Troon, where he defeated Switzerland’s Raphael De Sousa, 6 and 5. Wolstenholme defeated Bob May at Ganton in 1991 to earn his first Masters ticket the following April.
Most amateurs on both sides of the Atlantic go only as far as convention dictates before jumping into the paid ranks. In Great Britain, that usually means a few years playing for their country, perhaps playing in the Eisenhower Trophy and then the Walker Cup before heading down the arduous road to the PGA European Tour.
Not Gary Wolstenholme. For 20 years, the experienced Englishman has watched crop after crop of talented amateurs head for the pro game and has somehow resisted the lure of the lucre.
There are those who will argue that Wolstenholme has only remained in the unpaid ranks because he wasn’t good enough, that he was too short off the tee for professional golf. True, Wolstenholme isn’t long with the driver. But what he lacks in length, he more than makes up for in accuracy.
Wolstenholme also could be excused for having a quiet chuckle at the misfortunes of those who left him behind in the amateur ranks. He benefits from being a big fish in a small pond, while aspiring pros are but minnows in a sea full of sharks.
Make no mistake, the opportunity to garner all the attention all of the time is another factor in Wolstenholme’s decision to stay an amateur.
As Peter McEvoy once said, “Gary is never happier than when he is the focus of attention.”
Yet there was a time when the Leicester, England, native considered a professional career. Wolstenholme toyed with turning pro in his early 30s. He decided against it, feeling he could make a name for himself as an amateur.
“The only thing I regret is maybe the opportunity of earning a lot of money,” Wolstenholme said. “Yes, there was the allure of driving marvelous cars and living in fantastic houses and traveling the world first class, but then not all the pros do that. There is no guarantee that you will go out and make a fortune on the pro circuit. It’s a gamble you take.
“I’m not a talented individual particularly. I’ve just made the most of my opportunities. I’ve worked hard and it’s worked out well for me that I’ve been pretty successful for 20 years.”
Wolstenholme also believes he would have suffered from the dog-eat-dog philosophy that exists in the paid ranks.
“The pro game can be a very lonely existence where players are constantly looking out for No. 1,” he said. “The amateur game has a little bit more camaraderie between the players, which has been one of the most rewarding aspects for me.”
The Englishman got a taste of that lonely existence during the Masters’ second round in 1992. Following a dream pairing with Arnold Palmer in the opening round, Wolstenholme drew Bob Gilder for Day 2.
“Palmer was the most nonpatronizing, friendly, courteous individual I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing golf with,” Wolstenholme said. “He just enjoyed the game and enjoyed playing with me. It was just fantastic fun.
“Bob Gilder was not very communicative for starters. I had probably about six words with him up until the 17th hole. Then he realized I was going to miss the cut and he was going to make it. Then up the last, in front of all the crowds, he wanted to put his arm around me and finally started talking to me as if to say isn’t it great that amateurs are playing and wishing me the best of luck. I just really wasn’t interested in somebody being as two-faced as that.”
Wolstenholme shot 72-79 that year. He is realistic enough to admit that he does not travel to Augusta this year with hopes of the impossible. His main desire is to reach a milestone McEvoy reached in 1978. McEvoy is the last British winner of the Amateur Championship to make the cut at Augusta.
“Peter has been a huge hero of mine ever since I first met him because of what he’s done in the amateur game,” he said. “One thing of his I’d like to match is to make the cut at the Masters. That’s very high on my priority list.”
This year also will be another chance for Wolstenholme to truly soak up the aura of Augusta, something he missed 12 years ago.
“I definitely didn’t take advantage of my first Augusta experience,” he said. “I was probably a little bit too much in awe of the place last time and maybe felt intimidated a little by that. There were things that I didn’t take advantage of while I was there that I wish I had done. For example, I didn’t use my locker, which turned out to be a mistake because all sorts of things were put in my locker, souvenirs and gifts and things. I didn’t know about them until about a month afterwards when they were sent to me at home.
“So I missed out on that sort of stuff and I’m determined not to miss out on it again.”
Wolstenholme gets that rare second chance next week.