An amateur being invited to play in any professional tour event is pretty rare. The PGA has special exceptions they use at times, while other tournaments like the U.S Open allow for amateurs to qualify just like many of the professionals.
The Masters was co-founded by the most successful amateur golfer of all time. From 1923-1930 Bobby Jones won 13 majors including five U.S Amateurs, four U.S. Opens, three British Opens and one British Amateur, all as an amateur.
After retiring from competitive golf in 1930, Jones founded and helped design the Augusta National Golf Club soon afterwards in 1933. He also co-founded the Masters Tournament, which has been annually staged by the club since 1934.
In the spirit of Bobby Jones, at the Masters amateurs are not only part of the field, they are celebrated. Each year the amateurs who receive invitations are allowed to stay on property including the Crow’s Nest. To be permitted accommodations in the Crow’s Nest is a special privilege, and this designation shows the importance the Tournament and the Club places on amateur players. They are also welcome to the opening dinner and play their first two rounds in the company of a former Masters champion.
Georgia Southern’s Ben Carr received an invitation after finishing runner-up at last year’s U.S. Amateur. Carr says the week has been unbelievable, including being able to spend the night in the Crow’s Nest earlier this week.
“It was just amazing,” Carr said Wednesday. “I had to get up early that morning and I just couldn’t believe where I woke up and my surroundings. It was such a unique opportunity that I will never forget.”
Carr is one of seven amateurs who were invited to play at Augusta National this week. Carr is confident in his game and the preparation he has put in. His ultimate goal is to be this year’s low amateur which comes with being awarded the Silver Cup trophy. The last amateur to crack the Top-10 at Augusta was Jack Nicklaus who placed seventh in 1961. No amateur has made the cut since 2019.
“Obviously I want to make the cut and have a chance at being the low amateur,” Carr said. “Ultimately, I just want to have a good experience. I don’t want to get so caught up in how I’m playing that it takes away from how special it is having the honor to be an amateur playing at the Masters. I hope people come away saying that this kid is a pretty good player.”
Carr may be a Master’s newcomer but he has been able to learn quite a bit about Augusta National from a duo with plenty of experience. Carr played a couple practice rounds with fellow Columbus natives Larry Mize and Russell Henley, including the Par-3 tournament on Wednesday.
“Playing with those guys today at the Par-3 was great,” Carr said. “I am trying to soak everything in and today was also special because I git to have my brother caddie for me at the Par-3 tournament. Being out there with him and to experience this with my family is unbelievable.”
As far as his playing partners Wednesday, Mize won the 1987 Masters in dramatic style with a chip in on the 11th hole in a playoff against Greg Norman. Henley is a veteran of six Masters appearances including Top-20 finishes in 2017 and 2018.
“Mr. Larry Mize and Russell Henley have been nice enough to let me lean on them a little bit. It’s kind of my main goal right now to learn how the course is changing day to day.” Carr said after Monday’s practice round. “I got to sit down with them during Christmas break when I was home and kind of pick their brains a little bit about what to expect and some strategies.”
Another tool in Carr’s bag this week is the man who will be carrying his bag. Donald Cooper will be his caddie this week. Cooper spent most of his career caddying for 2009 U.S. Open Champ Lucas Glover. Glover played in 10 Masters with Cooper on his bag.
“He is a great guy and has so much experience caddying at Augusta National as well as being on the bag for a Major championship,” Carr said. “My swing coach used to coach Lucas so he got pretty close with ‘Coop.’ He kind of hooked us up and he has been great. I am going to be leaning on him hard this week.”
Carr hit balls on the range Monday right next to former Masters champion Jordan Spieth and says he knows he will be a little starstruck on the course this week.
“I’ve never been able to tee it up on the same course as these guys I have watched for years on TV,” Carr said. “I don’t want to be out there trying to be cool, I want to try and talk to anyone out there who is willing to talk to me. I’d love to get the chance to meet Tiger, although that’s a pretty slim chance. People like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Max Homa are all guys I’d love to have a conversation with.”
Carr tees off Thursday at 11:42 a.m. and is paired with two-time Masters champion Bernhard Langer and Mito Pereira who is from Chile and currently plays on the LIV golf tour.