2009 Masters: amateur Steve Wilson played with his idol Watson

Augusta, Ga. | For a moment, Steve Wilson allowed himself to dream. A good week at the Masters and the 39-year-old co-owner of a Mississippi gas station and convenience store fiddled with the idea of giving pro golf another shot.

The oldest amateur in the field, Wilson had washed out on the mini-tours in the 1990s, regained his amateur status and won the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur championship. Now the Mississippian had a Masters tee time with his idol, Tom Watson.

For young and old, the Masters offered its five amateurs a chance to shine on the biggest stage.

During his pre-tournament news conference, Tiger Woods was asked how he could relate to Wilson when he probably could buy the oil company that supplies his fuel.

“Whether you’re 19 or 39 or whatever have you, it doesn’t matter,” Woods said. “It’s just the greatest thing to experience this for the first time.”

If Wilson represented the veteran mulling a last-ditch run at the big time, Danny Lee was half his age, his career about to take flight. He will turn 19 in July and, ready or not, he turned pro following the Masters and is expected to make his professional debut next week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

“I think as an amateur, I’ve done everything,” Lee said April 9.

That won’t include making the cut at the Masters. He took six putts on the par-4 10th hole and shot 81 Friday.

“The fastest greens I’ve ever played,” Lee said.

Augusta gave all the amateurs fits. None made it to the weekend. But they didn’t all leave empty-handed.

Drew Kittleson, the 20-year-old U.S. Amateur runner-up from Scottsdale, Ariz., went home with two pair of the crystal goblets that the club awards for eagles.

“One for Arizona and one for school,” said the Florida State sophomore.

He hit one perfect shot in the second round, a 6-iron from 193 yards on the par-4, 11th hole that one-hopped into the hole for eagle. The patrons erupted.

“All my friends started bowing down. . . . I went over and ‘Hale Irwin-ed at the U.S. Open’ and high-fived everybody,” Kittleson said.

He made his second eagle at 15 but sandwiched in between was a triple bogey at 12. It was that type of week for the amateurs. Flashes of brilliance intersected with forgettable moments. They knew the course from TV, from multiple practice rounds (Wilson played 19), and yet nothing could prepare them for the moment. Reinier Saxton, 21, of the Netherlands, the reigning British Amateur champion, said he saw every hour on the clock Wednesday night. Wilson’s hands shook. Lee got a stomachache, and that was before his putting adventures.

Jack Newman, a 21-year-old junior at Michigan State and the reigning U.S. Amateur Public Links champion, made his mark at the Par-3 Contest. He led the field with five birdies and tied for second with a 3-under 24.

With his oldest brother Andy on the bag, Newman shot 72 and on Day 1. But not since Ryan Moore and Luke List in 2005 has an amateur made the cut.

Saxton, the low amateur at 3 over, says he soon will follow Lee into the pro game. Newman and Kittleson say their games aren’t far away.

And what of Wilson? He shot 79 and 75. Augusta’s greens exposed his putting woes. He called it “gut-wrenching” and compared finishing Friday to a boxer in his final rounds who still has to throw punches. He headed home planning to put the clubs away for a while, undecided whether he would defend his Mid-Am title. Time to head back to work and prepare his customers’ favorite item: a hot-pressed roast beef po’ boy sandwich with gravy.

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