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  • Alistair Tait

Can Long break Amateur Masters jinx?

You have to feel for England’s Joe Long as he prepares to realise a lifelong dream of teeing it up in the Masters. Long isn’t even close to being ready to take on the test that is Augusta National.

The 23-year-old Bristol resident, who takes his place in the field after winning last year’s Amateur Championship, is up against it for more reasons than one.

Covid-19 has played havoc with most of golf, but amateur golf in the British Isles has been particularly hard hit. The member of Lansdown Golf Club in Bath has only played three proper golf tournaments since he defeated countryman Joe Harvey at Royal Birkdale last August. Two of those have been in the Joburg Open and Alfred Dunhill Championship on the European Tour/Sunshine Tour just before Christmas. No surprise he missed both cuts.

He only managed two rounds in the African Amateur Stroke Play Championship in the middle of February. His last outing before Augusta came in a 2-hole loss to U.S. Amateur champion Tyler Strafaci in the Georgia Cup at the Golf Club of Georgia last month.

As two-time Amateur champion Gary Wolstenholme once said, Augusta is hard course for winners of the game’s oldest national amateur title:

“It is a bit of cultural shock for winners of our Amateur compared to U.S. Amateur winners,” Wolstenholme said. “There’s nothing at home like Augusta National, so getting to know the course in a few practice rounds is difficult. The fact it comes so early in the season doesn’t help either.”

Wolstenholme played in the 1992 and 2004 Masters and missed both cuts.

Amateur Championship winners missing the Masters cut is nothing new. Last November, Ireland’s James Sugrue made it four years in a row that the Amateur champion has missed the weekend at the Masters. Covid-19 badly affect Sugrue’s preparations too. He did well, all things considered. He opened with a 77 and managed a 1-under par 71 in round two. He missed the cut by four shots.

The historical disadvantage Wolstenholme talks about is all too stark. Of the 54 Amateur Championship winners since 1957 (when a 36-hole cut was introduced) who have gone on to play in the Masters (and remained amateur), only seven have made the weekend, a paltry 12.96% success rate. Here are the seven and where they finished:

  • 2016 Romain Langasque (France), 39th

  • 2010 Matteo Manassero (Italy), 36th,

  • 1999 Sergio Garcia (Spain), 38th

  • 1980, Jay Sigel (United States), 26th

  • 1978 Peter McEvoy (England), 53rd

  • 1967 Bobby Cole (South Africa), 44th

  • 1960 Deane Beman (United States), 29th

Manassero, Garcia and Sigel all took low amateur honours, with Manassero the youngest player to finish low amateur. Garcia joined compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal as the only players to win the Amateur Championship and the Masters with his 2017 victory.

No wonder Long is 5,000 to 1 with Ladbrokes to win this week. Forget slipping on a gaudy green jacket. Hopefully he can become the eighth winner of the Amateur Championship to play all four rounds at Augusta.

Speaking of amateurs in the Masters, great to see Michael Thompson first on the tee today with Hudson Swafford. Thompson is always first in my book, and Ben Crenshaw’s.

Thompson missed the cut in the 2008 Masters as an amateur but left Augusta with his head held high. His actions on the 15th green in the second round reminded us why golf is the most honourable of all sports.

The University of Alabama player accidentally caused his ball to move. No one else saw the infraction, but the 21-year-old immediately informed a rules official of his misdemeanour. Thompson had to replace the ball and add a one-stroke penalty to his card.

“You have to follow the rules, and the best players do that,” Thompson said.

It wasn’t the first time he’d called a penalty on himself. Thompson had a similar incident in high school.

“That’s the person I am. I’m very honest and trustworthy. I don’t want to cheat,” he added.

Playing companion Crenshaw, a true student of the game, was impressed. He said:

“He handled himself beautifully. You should not dismiss lightly what he did.”

When asked what Augusta founder Bobby Jones’s reaction would be in that great clubhouse in the sky, two-time Masters winner Crenshaw replied:

“He’s got a nice warm smile on his face right now.”

Hope Thompson does well this week too.

#JustSaying: “It’s all pretty crazy but very, very special. I will do my best to play well and make the most of these amazing opportunities.” Joe Long

Photograph by Getty Images courtesy of the R&A

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