Gordon Sargent received a phone call early in the day on Jan. 2 from an Augusta area code. No name was associated with the number. But the script beneath the 10 digits was extremely familiar: Augusta National.
The 19-year-old Vanderbilt sophomore wondered if he was being pranked, but couldn’t chance being wrong.
The reigning No. 1 amateur picked up to learn he received a rare exemption and invitation to the 2023 Masters. The tournament hadn’t used the exemption to invite an amateur since 2000, when Australian Aaron Baddeley got the call.
When he called his college coach, Scott Limbaugh, he replied, “Dude, there’s no way they just invited you to play in The Masters. Let’s just wait a minute and see what comes of this.”
And there he was on national television Thursday at 12:48 p.m. ET in a group with Zach Johnson and Jason Day.
At first, Sargent learned his youthful appearance might not be an advantage around famed Augusta National.
He was “grounded a bit” when security officials confused him for a youth golfer to start the week. Course officials were ready to reroute Sargent away from the player dining area and to the designated spot for the 7-to-15-year-old participants in the “Drive, Chip and Putt” competition until pros from the club shop easily identified him as the reigning NCAA men’s national champion. Sargent won a four-man playoff with a 7-foot putt for birdie on the first extra hole.
Sargent announced his arrival for practice rounds with a thunderous and powerful swing, landing more than 20 yards beyond Justin Thomas during rounds earlier this week.
“It’s pretty cool,” Sargent said of his reality this week.
–Take the first swing
The Birmingham, Ala., native said he realized he was good when he beat his dad, a longtime golfer, at age 12. He first visited Vanderbilt as a freshman but said he had dreams of making that final putt to win The Masters.
His first putt Thursday went down for an opening birdie.
Sargent’s drive at the par-4 first carried 356 yards down the center of the fairway and he landed his second shot, an 85-yard wedge, within 10 feet. A 9-foot putt hit the bottom of the cup moments before the manual scoreboard posted his achievement.
Sargent said his nerves Thursday morning were “about a 3” out of 10 while warming up on the driving range 20 minutes before his tee time.
“It didn’t really dawn on me that I was playing in the Masters until they announce your name and stuff,” Sargent said after his round.
After the first, though, Sargent admitted Augusta National “kicked (his) butt out there.” He tallied four bogeys, a double bogey and a triple bogey along with three more birdies — including a short putt at the par-4 18th to bookend his round — for a 5-over 77.
Amateur Sam Bennett of Texas A&M had a much different kind of day at The Masters.
Earlier this week, Bennett scoffed at the idea he would be wide-eyed in a field of golf royalty. Though Bennett said he was in awe of the “surreal drive” down Magnolia Lane at Augusta, his driver was working just fine Thursday.
He tied the lowest score on the front nine for an amateur with a 32 (4-under), which included a birdie-eagle start on the first two holes. He stayed bogey-free and made 12 straight pars to close his round at 4-under 68.
“I feel like I’m prepared,” Bennett said this week. “It’s cool being an amateur. I’m going to have fun. I’m not here to treat it like a hit and giggle. I’m here to compete and test my game.”
–Field Level Media