2005: Mid-am Marsh to realize Masters dream

Chattanooga, Tenn.

Once he began playing golf as a teenager, Kevin Marsh dreamed of someday playing on the PGA Tour and maybe even playing in the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club.

He chased his dream after graduating from Pepperdine in December 1996, turned professional and paid his dues. But after bouncing around the mini-tours and enduring three unsuccessful attempts at PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament, never getting past the first stage, Marsh decided “it was too much of a grind and I didn’t enjoy it.”

The PGA Tour dream was gone. He applied to regain his amateur status and was granted reinstatement in 2002.

His dream about playing in the Masters? That is about to come true. Next April, Marsh will be among the elite Masters field.

Marsh earned his invitation Sept. 15 when he rolled to a 10-and-9 victory over Carlton Forrester

in the 36-hole final of the 25th U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at The Honors Course. Marsh, 32, jumped in front early and never let up as he scored the largest margin of victory in the event’s history.

“I’m just overwhelmed right now,” said Marsh shortly after his par on the 27th hole (the par-4 ninth) secured his victory. “I’ve been fortunate to win some very good tournaments in my life, but nothing like this. To come here and win a USGA event and to win on The Honors Course is just amazing.

“I’ve never been to the Masters or Augusta National. I’ve been to the city (Augusta, Ga.)

once when I was 13, visiting an uncle. But the closest I’ve come to the golf course was driving by the gate. So I have no idea what to expect, but I know it will be exciting and the thrill of a lifetime.”

Marsh, winner of the 1996 Southern California Amateur, was 4 up after nine holes and 10 up after the morning 18 holes, believed to be the largest lead at that point in a USGA men’s final.

Along with the Robert T. Jones Jr. Memorial Trophy, Marsh earned exemptions into this championship for the next 10 years as well as an exemption into next year’s U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links. He also secured a local exemption in U.S. Open qualifying the next three years.

Forrester’s perks aren’t quite as extensive, but he did gain an exemption into the next three U.S. Mid-Ams as well as next year’s U.S. Amateur.

“Kevin played sensational golf with a capital ‘S,’ ” said Forrester, 29, of Birmingham, Ala. “I didn’t play all that well, but he played great and never let up. It’s been an exhausting week, but when you’re playing for a national title you don’t think about (being tired). You just stay pumped up. I’m sure I’ll look back in a couple of weeks and see what I accomplished this week. But right now I’m pretty down. I mean, let’s face it, we all came here to win and finishing second is no fun.”

Marsh, a quarterfinalist last year, won Nos. 2 and 3 with pars to go 2 up, and Nos. 7 and 9 with birdies to double his lead.

The back nine was all Marsh, who shot the equivalent of 6-under-par 30, with six birdies, taking into consideration some putts that were conceded.

“I was 4 down at the turn, but still felt there was a lot of golf left and felt I was still in the match,” said Forrester, a 2000 graduate of Georgia Tech where he was a two-time All-American. “Then he goes and shoots 30 on the back side. I don’t care if it’s match play, stroke play . . . that’s incredible golf.”

Marsh, who defeated former Mid-Am champions Ken Bakst (1997) and Austin Eaton III (2004)

on his way to the final, won the 10th hole with a birdie to go 5 up, then closed out the morning session by winning the last five holes with four birdies and a par.

“I knew Carlton was struggling and I was playing well,” said Marsh, a native Californian who now lives in Las Vegas and works in commercial real estate development. “But I never expected to be 10 up after 18 holes. That was pretty amazing. But even with that lead, I knew I had to keep pressing and keep making good shots. Fortunately I was able to do that.”

Both finalists survived difficult tests in the semis. Forrester won the final two holes to turn back a determined Mike McCoy of West Des Moines, Iowa, 1 up. McCoy, 42, had played in 20 USGA events (including 10 U.S. Amateurs and eight Mid-Ams) without ever advancing past the Sweet 16.

Marsh never trailed and went on to notch a 2-and-1 victory over Steven Liebler, the former men’s golf coach at South Carolina. Liebler had won three of his four matches in extra holes.

For Marsh, the final proved to be easier work, and he was able to enjoy the moment.

“I’ve always been a real competitor and hard on myself,” Marsh said. “This week, I tried to stay relaxed and just go out and have fun. Today, I was very focused. And to be a USGA champion is incredible.”

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