Hoping Shepherd Can Tame Augusta
Updated: Apr 8
Laird Shepherd had to dig deep to win last year’s Amateur Championship. He ran out an unlikely winner at Nairn Golf Club, coming from eight down to defeat fellow Englishman Monty Scowsill at the 38th hole.
That’s more holes than he’ll probably play in this year’s Masters. Shepherd, who plays alongside Bob MacIntyre and Charl Schwartzel in the opening round, will have to dig even deeper if he hopes to play all four rounds at the course Thomas Boswell labelled the "Cathedral in the Pine".
History isn’t on Shepherd’s side.
The St Andrews resident is trying to buck a dismal trend of performances by Amateur champions. If Shepherd plays four rounds, he’ll be the first since Romain Langasque in 2016.
Shepherd missed last year’s Open Championship cut at Royal St George’s by two shots, on a golf course he was far more familiar with than Augusta National.
Just eight winners of The Amateur have made the Masters cut since 1957, when the green jackets introduce one. That’s eight from 53, a 15.09% success rate. (In case anyone is doing the math, there were 12 occasions in that time when Amateur champions did not take up their Masters invitations.)
Steve Melynk holds the record for best finish by an Amateur winner. The American won the 1971 Amateur Championship at Carnoustie, defeating compatriot Jim Simonds 3&2. He then went on to finish 12th in the following year’s Masters with rounds of 72, 72, 74 and 72 . However, the future television commentor had turned pro by then, which means that of those who remained amateur, just seven have made the halfway cut.
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 are the only Amateur winners to takes low amateur honours. Manassero, Sigel and Beman are the only players to break par of those who made the cut, with 1-under 71s. Sigel holds the record for lowest 36 hole aggregate by Amateur winners, recording a second successive 71 for a 142 tally. Ireland’s James Sugrue, the 2019 Amateur winner, returned a second round 71 two years ago. However, he shot an opening 77.
Garcia and Jose Maria Olazabal are the only Amateur champions to win the Masters. Garcia, who earned his first major at Augusta in 2017, won the 1998 Amateur at Muirfield by hanging a dog licence (7&6) on Welshman Craig Williams. Two-time Masters winner Jose Maria Olazabal (1993 and 1998) won the 1984 Amateur Championship by beating Colin Montgomerie 5&4 at Formby, but missed the Masters cut the following year.
Shepherd has a huge challenge. He’s facing an average first round score of 77.62, and an average second round score of 77.57. England’s Trevor Homer, winner of the 1972 Amateur, holds the record for the highest score by an Amateur champion around Augusta. He returned a second round 88 in 1973, after opening with an 81. Homer won the 1974 Amateur but didn’t play the 1975 Masters. Perhaps 88 blows two years previously convinced him not to make the trip.
Sweden’s Christian Hardin holds the record for highest 36-hole tally, a 170 aggregate after back to back 85s in 1989.
It’s no surprise so few have played 72 holes around arguably the world’s most iconic course. With the exception of American winners of the Amateur, the majority spend most of their time playing links golf. Seaside golf is just a wee bit different from the challenge Augusta presents, with those fast, heavily contoured greens. Throw in the fact it comes so early in the year before most British/Continental Europeans have got their teeth into competitive golf, and it’s no wonder so many Amateur champions fail to play 72 holes.
Gary Wolstenholme had two cracks at trying to make the Masters cut after winning the 1991 and 2003 Amateur Championships. The Englishman shot 72, 79 in 1992, and 77, 76 in 2004.
“It is a bit of cultural shock for winners of our Amateur. There’s nothing at home like Augusta National, so getting to know the course in a few practice rounds is difficult,” Wolstenholme said.
Here’s hoping Shepherd takes quickly to Augusta’s green pastures and joins a very select club by playing all 72 holes over the next four days.
#JustSaying: “It (Augusta National) is like playing a Salvador Dali landscape. I expected a clock to fall out of the trees and hit me in the face.” David Feherty
Photograph courtesy of the R&A