Augusta, Ga. – Augusta National’s front nine felt like a St. John’s reunion. One alum drew in the school symbol on a previously blank cap. Johnnies golf coach Bob Alpers made sure the Schmitz family had “Johnnie bread” for breakfast.
St. Thomas golf coach Scott Proshek wore red for solidarity, risking Tommies excommunication. There were even moments when it seemed the famed hand-operated scoreboards at the Masters would cooperate, and drape red numbers next to Sammy Schmitz’s name.
The Minnesota amateur played the front nine at the Masters in even par, and true and honorary Johnnies were hollering from the gallery, and then the winds intensified and shifted, the back nine began, and Schmitz’s many followers grew quiet. He followed a 36 on the front nine with a 45 on the back nine, leaving him with an 81 and tied for 86th entering the second round.
He tees off at 7:20 a.m. Central time on Friday knowing he will need to play brilliantly to achieve his goal of becoming the first National Mid-Amateur champion to make the cut at the Masters.
“I just think it’s really easy to shoot 81 out here with this wind,” he said.
Schmitz played the first nine and the last two holes in even par. He played the first seven holes of the back nine in 9 over.
After making a difficult par save on No. 9, he blasted a 4-iron over the green on No. 10, making a double bogey. He played the difficult par-4 11th like a par-5, laying up short of the water, but his pitch was short and he made bogey.
On the par-5s, Nos. 13 and 15, he was hitting his third shot into the green with a wedge. On 13, he took a large divot and hit the ball into Rae’s Creek in front of the green, then took off both shoes to play the ball, making double bogey. On 15, he flew the green and made bogey.
“The wind confused the heck out of me,” he said. “And with the confusion of the wind I was executing shots a little bit worse as well. That’s kind of how it went.
“It doesn’t take much to get off track here. I got a little bit off track. Didn’t really putt poorly, but didn’t putt great on the back nine. Hole 13 I was really disappointed with. Other than that I played pretty well.”
He blocked his first tee shot to the right, leading to a bogey, and playing partner Mike Weir, a Masters champion, gave him a word of encouragement. He made bogey on that hole, then birdied the par-5 second hole with a difficult downhill putt.
He bogeyed No. 3 but made a birdie at No. 6, firing at a pin tucked behind a bunker and making a 5-foot putt. He was making golf look easy, and often golf doesn’t like that.
Following Schmitz were Johnnies, family members, friends and prominent members of the Minnesota golf community: Jim Lehman, Tom’s brother and a golf agent and entrepreneur; Bel-Air Country Club pro David Podas, a Minnesota native; Schmitz’s coach, Braemar head pro Joe Greupner; and his colleague Roger Fahrenkrug.
Also in Augusta are Ryder Cup chair Patrick Hunt of Hazeltine, former LPGA Tour pro Cindy Rarick and Hazeltine member and major champion Rich Beem.
It was Schmitz’s regular four-ball partner, Jesse Polk, who needled him from the pine trees at No. 9. Schmitz had bombed his driver down the hill. Polk yelled, “Is that all you’ve got?” as Schmitz smiled and waved.
Schmitz seemed determined not to let seven difficult holes ruin his week at Augusta.
“I loved it,” he said. “I loved having my friends around. We’re going to go home and grill out and have a beer tonight and enjoy each other’s company.
“Most of us have kids and it’s nice to be able to share those experiences with everybody. I definitely don’t feel bad about shooting 80 or so out here today. And I’ll come back out tomorrow and enjoy the experience.”
His friends will make sure he sees more red on Friday.