The Masters is underway today, and generally the tournament is regarded as the toughest to even get invited to because of a list of stringent requirements and only 96 open spots (some of which are taken up by old-timers like Gary Player and Ray Floyd). But the Masters does extend an invitation to the winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship every year, which is a tournament for amateurs who are over the age of 25 (in other words, true amateurs rather than youngsters who haven’t turned pro yet).
This year’s qualifier is a 39-year-old guy named Steve Wilson, who basically gave up on golf a bunch of times (and came back just as many times) before catching lightning in a bottle at the Mid-Am. In fact, some members of his family didn’t even know he was playing in the tournament last fall. He had regained amateur status after a middling 10-year stint on the Nationwide Tour and was only playing a couple of amateur tournaments every year in Mississippi. Today, he played Augusta with Tom Watson.
Wilson is okay with the wisecracks. He is the definition of happy to be here. He is a 39-year-old amateur who gave up the sport “thirty or fifty times,” a former college golfer who couldn’t break 80, a public links player with what he calls a “chicken-wing swing.”
And there he was Wednesday, standing between the pines at the most famous golf course in the world, playing in the annual par-3 contest at Augusta National in a group with Craig Stadler and Bernhard Langer.
“Between us,” he cracked, “we’ve won three Masters.”
Wilson owns two gas stations in Mississippi and played in his first PGA event in his home state after winning the Mid-Am.
And he might not be the best golfer in the field this week, but it sure seems like he might be one of the best people:
“He is certainly not rich by any means,” Mark Mumley, one of his friends back in Mississippi, said in a phone interview. Mumley organized a golf outing and banquet to raise money for his travel expenses, complete with an Augusta National scorecard on the place mats.
Wilson donated the $5,000 to the local youth golf organization in the state. That, his friends say, is typical. Hurricane Katrina hit him and his family hard, with 4 1/2 feet of water flooding his house. He still went to his gas station the day after the storm, hooked up a generator and pumped out 10,000 gallons at a cut rate to anybody in the area who needed it.
Wilson says he doesn’t really care how well he does this week but just wanted to be able to play a great course and be able to look out and see his family in the gallery.
And while he’s tied for 93rd out of 96 players, he shot a not-at-all-embarrassing 79 today, and could have done better if not for a double-bogey at 18.
Congrats to Wilson for getting to live his dream.