AUGUSTA, Ga. – Harry Ellis signed for an 86 in the opener of the 82nd Masters Tournament and was quickly escorted out by a green jacket member to a handful of reporters. What would a 22-year-old redshirt senior, the reigning British Amateur champion, have to say about the highest round of his year by 11 shots?
“A lot of guys, a lot of people generally around the world, will be looking at the score, whatever, but that’s irrelevant,” Ellis said. “It doesn’t really matter to me right now. It eats at me, no doubt, and I also want to come back tomorrow and bounce back, but there’s definitely a perspective.”
Florida State head coach Trey Jones calls Ellis a once-in-a-lifetime type of player to coach. Players reveal the most about themselves after a tough round, and Ellis was pure gold.
On a day when 2017 champion Sergio Garcia posted a 13 on the 15th hole – the highest score on any one hole in Masters history – sports fans were reminded of what Jones found himself repeating to Seminole supporters throughout the day: Golf is hard.
Jack Nicklaus addressed the topic of losing with dignity on Thursday, saying his father taught him at an early age to look his opponent in the eye, offer a firm handshake and say well done.
“You should revel in their joy,” Nicklaus said.
Well, the entire field beat Ellis on Thursday at Augusta National, and he reveled in all that those 86 strokes taught him.
“When you have rounds like this you learn the most,” Ellis said. “And I’m open to that, so it’s fun.”
This refreshing attitude and perspective has been shaped, in part, by tragic loss. Three weeks before Ellis was set to leave Southampton, England, for Tallahassee, Fla., in 2013, he lost his mother to cancer. Tracey Ellis was 50 years old.
“My wife’s last words were ‘You’re still going to go. It’s going to be good for you,’ ” said Murray Ellis, Harry’s father.
Tracey Ellis, a former hockey player, was kind and loving and competitive. She was also Harry’s toughest critic, Murray said. Harry loved her for it.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better mother,” he said.
When Harry won the English Amateur at the age of 16, he became the youngest to ever to claim the title, besting Sir Nick Faldo’s record. The victory propelled him to Florida State, which boasted the top-ranked team in the country when he arrived. He didn’t make the starting lineup that year, and red-shirted the next season.
Ellis credited the aid of a counselor for helping him get to the other side of tragedy. It took the better part of two years.
“If you break your leg it’s very visible,” Murray said. “You get a cast and that’s it. But when you have a trauma, a mental injury, the body’s got to take time to heal and you can’t force it.”
Now, Harry has won twice in this, his final college season and plans to turn professional following the U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
Chances are Heather Brackstone, Tracey’s mother and Harry’s “Nan,” will be there. She has walked alongside the player since his days competing in the Wee Wonders at St. Andrews.
“Who would’ve believed this?” said Brackstone as she walked up the steep 18th fairway. “We could dream.”
On Monday night, Harry stayed in the Crow’s Nest with fellow amateurs and talked about fighting fires with Matt Parziale and practice rounds with Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia. On Tuesday, he spent 45 minutes with Nicklaus on how to play Augusta National. All the advice and anecdotes in the world, however, couldn’t prepare him for what awaited him at 9:25 a.m. on Thursday.
“Nothing, nothing can prepare you for that moment,” he said. “Doesn’t matter who it is, what anyone has told you I had plenty of time to prepare, nothing compares to that feeling of being on that tee.”
Florida State’s president, athletic director and head football coach made the trip up to Augusta to watch him compete. They didn’t see his best inside the ropes, but what came after was something worth emulating.
“It’s not an end for him,” Jones said.
A tough day at Augusta is still far better than most.