It’s probably an odd feeling seeing a TV commercial advertising a golf tournament you will be playing in.
During the last month or so, that happened to John Kelly, a senior on MU’s golf team, whenever he watched the men’s NCAA Tournament on CBS. Like the NCAA Tournament, the Masters is broadcast on CBS and is heavily promoted. Kelly will be competing in his first Masters.
“That’s really cool. Every year you hear that music and it gets you thinking, ‘Oh, spring’s here,’” said Kelly, who finished second in the United States Amateur Championship to earn a spot in this year’s Masters and U.S. Open. “This year it’s kind of like my first thought’s, ‘Oh, the Masters.’ And then, like, ‘Wait a minute, I’m playing in that.’”
“That” is just one of the most prestigious tournaments in the world, being one of golf’s four majors. The Masters humbles some of the sport’s greatest players and most recognizable faces. In 1996, Greg Norman lost a 5-stroke lead on the tournament’s last day to Nick Faldo, eventually losing by six shots. A year later, Tiger Woods won his first major at the Masters, winning by 12.
“It’s just the tradition, and it’s just the history of the game has been written in that one tournament,” Kelly said. “All the greats of the game have been there, their stories have been written there, great champions have come and played.
“I’m just glad to be a small, small little snippet of that. To be a part of that is pretty cool.”
But, in all likelihood, Kelly would have to pull off one of the greatest miracles in Masters history just to get where Norman did. That’s why Kelly’s goal isn’t to win the tournament. Obviously he’d like to, but he knows it probably won’t happen.
He still, however, allows himself to think about winning it — about having 2006 champion Phil Mickelson put the winner’s green jacket on his shoulders. It is, as Kelly said, what every golfer dreams of.
“I have dreams about that all the time,” Kelly said. “Just being a competitive golfer ... Obviously, yeah, what a great thing that would be to win. Who’s to say I can’t? But I’m not going to be in there as an amateur going in there saying, ‘Yeah, I’m going to win this thing.’”
That’s why, as an amateur, Kelly should have some other goals. Steve Spray, who played in the Masters three times and is Kelly’s neighbor, said Kelly should just try to “enjoy the experience.”
“It’s something you’ll never forget,” said Spray, who qualified for the 1961 and 1964 tournaments by reaching the previous year’s U.S. Amateur quarterfinals and the 1969 Masters after finishing fifth in the 1968 U.S. Open. “I still remember a lot of things that happened when I was there.
“Even if you don’t play well, you’ll always have it to remember.”
But Kelly would probably like to remember a good performance more than anything else. To do that, he would have to replicate his run from last August at the U.S. Amateur Championship.
When Kelly advanced to the US Amateur final last year, some viewed it as a surprise. Of the six Missouri golfers who played more than 10 events last season, Kelly had the fifth-highest scoring average at 74.81 shots per match. He finished in the top 10 of only one event.
Still, Missouri golf coach Mark Leroux said he recognized Kelly’s talent.
“John is one of those players on the team that has the ability to get to the next level,” Leroux said. “And I say that because I think he has the physical capabilities to do it, the golf swing, very physically fit, emotionally sound, a good family support. All of these little things ... What’s important to him, he spends a lot of time on. Now he’s kind of split — he’s doing school and golf. I think that once he has one thing to focus on, one goal, that he’s going to be able to be successful.”
To be successful at the Masters, Kelly is going to have to be accurate off the tee and find a way to improve his putting. In recent years, some golf analysts have said Augusta National Golf Course may be outdated, that the new equipment and stronger players have have made the course obsolete.
Kelly said that his strength is his distance, giving him a chance to “out drive” the course.
There are, however, many other players who would say the same thing. Seeing how some of those players play and act while on the course, Kelly said, will be something he hopes will improve his performance in the future. He also said he is looking forward to seeing “how his game measures up.”
“Just seeing what they do that maybe they don’t do right now I can take from their games and somehow put it in my game here down the road,” Kelly said. “It will be interesting to see first hand.”
Both Kelly and Leroux acknowledge that Kelly will attempt to have a professional career once he leaves Missouri. When they talked about this year’s Masters, both referred to it as Kelly’s first. They both share a confidence that this Masters will not only improve Kelly’s game, but his preparedness for a pro career. After all, what better experience for a player than to compete in the Masters as a 22 year old?
“Everything he goes in now is going to be something less threatening,” Leroux said with a laugh. “To tee it up at the Masters, and then, what’s going to be that intimidating ever again? It may really help him in the future with Q (qualifying)-school and the other things he plans to do professionally.”
ven if Kelly misses the cut, never qualifies for another Masters or even misses out on playing professionally, he said he will still get the same joy out of golf he is getting now.
“I’m a real competitive person so I’ve always liked that golf is such a challenging game,” Kelly said. “It can bring you to your knees at any point in time. I just like trying to master something that really can’t quite be mastered.”