Georgia on his mind
MSU golfer Newman beat the odds to earn an invite to golf's biggest tournament
MSU junior Jack Newman will become the first Spartan golfer to play in the Masters Tournament when he tees off April 9 in Augusta, Ga. Newman is one of five amateur golfers who will compete for the Green Jacket.
Next week, MSU junior Jack Newman will venture to Augusta, Georgia, for the premiere golf event in the world: the Masters Tournament. Newman will walk in the footsteps of Jack, Arnie, Tiger and Lefty — men who made their names at the famed Augusta National Golf Club.
He will try to tame golf’s most fabled course, where the holes have flowery names — Azalea, Yellow Jasmine and Carolina Cherry — but a fiery habit of destroying the most finely-tuned games.And he will have his green-and-white Spartan golf bag at his side from the first tee to the 18th green.
Newman will become the first MSU golfer to compete in the opening major of the golf year, fulfilling a lifelong dream to play Augusta National in April at the ripe age of 21.
“Playing the Masters as an amateur, I didn’t really expect it,” Newman said. “But I always wanted to play in the Masters because I think that’s the pinnacle of golf as a professional or an amateur.”Newman’s journey to Augusta will be historic for the Spartan golfer, but he never would have made it if not for one week in Colorado last year, when he shocked the amateur golf world with a performance to remember.
Earning his keep
He was a horse as dark as Black Beauty, yet there was Jack Newman, standing on the first tee of Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., ready to play a 36-hole final match he was never supposed to start.
It was the middle of July at the 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, an annual tournament featuring 155 of the game’s greatest amateurs. There were NCAA All-Americans, multiple tournament winners and some of the highest ranked college golfers in the nation gathered in Aurora.
There was Newman, ranked No. 1,221 in the Golfweek/Scratch Players World Amateur Rankings, trying to salvage a summer of mediocre golf, his mind set just on making the cut after two rounds of stroke play.
Newman made the cut by five strokes. He cruised to a 3 and 2 first-round victory against former Fresno State Bulldog Ryan McDonald, meaning he had a three-hole lead with two holes left to play.Conventional wisdom would say he would meet his match in the second round, against Florida senior and two-time NCAA All-American Billy Horschel.
Yet Newman wrestled a win from the Gator after three sudden-death holes, sinking a 20-footer on the second playoff hole to extend the match, then making par as Horschel bogeyed on the third playoff hole.Newman knocked off Marquette sophomore Kelly Kretz 5 and 3 in the third round, then Charlotte sophomore Corey Nagy, one of the Atlantic 10’s most promising young golfers, after six more sudden-death holes in the quarterfinals.
Newman never trailed in the semifinals as he defeated Cason Hammock, 3 and 1, setting up a showdown with UC-Irvine junior John Chin in the finals.
“I wasn’t favored by any chances until after I beat Corey Nagy,” Newman said last week as he sat in MSU’s golf complex near Forest Akers West Golf Course, his slow Midwestern drawl rising above a loud television.“I think then the population of the people who came out to watch, they started liking me more and more, and then by the final round I had the majority of the people behind me every time I’d make a putt.”
A family affair
Newman stood on that first tee of the final round with about a dozen familiar faces in the crowd.
There was his father, Bob, who introduced Jack to the game at age five by taking him to the range and letting him hit liners with a sawed-down 5-wood. There was his mother Maribeth, who “wouldn’t have a clue how to hold a club,” Newman said with a laugh.And there were brothers Andy, 33, Dan, 31, Dave, 29, and sister Katie, 25 — all of whom drove 10 and a half hours through the night from Des Moines to Aurora, arriving at 6:30 a.m. for their little brother’s final round.They all watched as Chin jumped out to an early lead, taking two of the first four holes. After carrying his own bag in the early going, Jack solicited the caddying services of Andy, a former golf professional in Minnesota, on the sixth hole.In between shots, the brothers would talk about anything — Andy’s recent trip to Costa Rica or the ladies, Newman said — besides golf. Once they approached a shot, Jack and Andy were all business. Newman traded holes with Chin in the morning round, finishing the first 18 with a one-hole lead. The duo started on the afternoon round and encountered sweltering heat nearing triple digits.Yet Newman found a way to ice his nerves, and his game caught fire. He continued to hit fairways, greens in regulation and long putts, even as Chin regularly pounded drives up to 50 yards past Newman’s drives.
“He’s a really good putter as it is, but that was just one of those days where you’re just in awe,” Andy said. “He had to drain probably a half-dozen putts from outside 20 or 25 feet.”After clinging to a one-hole lead with 10 holes left to play, Newman ran away with the final. He won three straight holes, then tied three more to take a four-hole lead with four to play.
“During the final match, I never even really thought about (the Masters) until the last five or six holes, and then it started to creep in,” Newman said.
On the par-5 15th hole, Newman watched as Chin drove his tee shot into a water hazard. Jack turned to Andy, smiled and gave a little wink.
Newman hit the fairway on his drive, laid up on his second shot, chipped up to the green and two-putted for the 5 and 3 win and trip to Augusta National.“Those last couple holes, I had a few guided shots to the safe part of the green, I’ll tell you that,” Newman said.
Preparing for the beastWhile Newman revelled in the Public Links victory and Augusta National invite, the Masters still was nine months away.
In that time, Newman has gone to Augusta four times — once in November, twice in February, and once during MSU’s spring break — to familiarize himself with one of golf’s most ferocious beasts. His first visit in November nearly sent him scrambling back to the friendly confines of Forest Akers.
“It was cold, wet and windy that day. It was a brutal golf course,” Newman said. “I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into.”
In recent trips, though, Newman has enjoyed a more accommodating golf course, scoring a 73 in his best round.“In the past couple trips, I’ve started hitting 5, 6-irons into greens where I had to hit hybrids (before),” he said. “The course will keep getting shorter and shorter as it firms out, so that will mean I’ll be hitting 7-irons in, so that will be nice.”He has taken his father and three brothers to the course, and each family member left in awe of Augusta National’s rolling hills, picturesque landscapes and outlandish difficulty.
“It’s one of those places you have to see it to believe it,” Andy said. “Some of the false fronts you see on TV that look like they’re three to four feet are 10 to 12 feet.”
Newman didn’t need to look far for advice on how to play Augusta National — MSU head coach Sam Puryear once played the course and shot an 81, despite four birdies.
Puryear discussed staring down the history of Augusta National, the anxiety of taking a divot from the course’s pristine fairways and playing holes where Jack Nicklaus or Tiger Woods hit career-defining shots.
“For me, the opportunity to play it one time, the memory lasts a lifetime,” Puryear said. “I can still recount the shots I made, the birdies I made — and the double bogies.”Newman said he has taken the necessary preparation and stress in stride while enjoying his accomplishment.
“It’s a bunch of stuff and you’ve got to deal with it, but I’ll find myself smiling in the car as I’m listening to a good tune because I realize about the Masters,” he said.
The native son
Newman is expected to start his week in Augusta on Saturday, the first of four consecutive practice days. He likely will coop up for at least one night in the Crow’s Nest, the top room of Augusta National’s clubhouse that traditionally boards Masters amateurs.
Newman will take part in the annual Par 3 Contest on Wednesday before teeing off Thursday for the round of his life. When Newman drives up Magnolia Lane to the Augusta National Clubhouse on Thursday, he likely will be leaving behind about 100 friends and family who came to Georgia to support him but were unable to get tickets, Andy Newman said.
Bob Newman, a Des Moines resident, said his son’s legend has grown in the family’s home state, where golfers such as Iowa City native and 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson are passionately embraced.
“Des Moines is not that big of a place, and when they get something like this, they kind of attach themselves,” Bob Newman said. “It’s a real nice area and there’s a lot of good Midwestern values, probably not a whole lot different than Michigan.”
When he steps up to the first tee, Newman will have Andy on his bag and immediate family members in the crowd. He hopes to still be alive after the 36-hole cut — back-to-back 73s would put him on the bubble — and see his name on the leaderboard at some point. By the 72nd hole, Newman wants to finish as the lowest-scoring of the five amateurs in the field.
And as his father says, the Green Jacket could end up on a Spartan’s shoulders Sunday evening.“Somebody’s gotta win it, so why not you?” Bob Newman said of his son. “That’s a little crazy, but you’ve got to think that way.”