You might have noticed something missing from the green jacket presentation at Butler Cabin this year.
Due to the fact that none of the six amateurs who played in the Masters Tournament made the cut, there was no low amateur to sit alongside new champion Scottie Scheffler and 2021 winner Hideki Matsuyama.
But while he missed out on hearing Jim Nantz’s hushed intonation before a national-TV audience, Austin Greaser can sit with the knowledge that his 7-over 151 total over two rounds tied Japanese competitor Keita Nakajima for the best 36-hole result by an amateur at the event.
Considering Greaser (and Nakajima) beat 18 professionals — including recent major champions Bryson DeChambeau, Francesco Molinari and Gary Woodland — that outcome on one of golf’s grandest playgrounds isn’t anything to shrug off.
“It’s hard to even know where to begin,” said Greaser, last year’s U.S. Amateur runner-up at Oakmont Country Club.
“Total dream come true for a kid who’s been watching the Masters for 20 years. To walk inside the ropes where every big-name golfer in history has walked, it felt like a video game, playing that course in front of those crowds.”
Greaser, the 23rd-ranked amateur in the world, plays a leading role for the No. 5 University of North Carolina golf team. The junior from the Dayton suburb of Vandalia, Ohio, said on a teleconference last week that he heard quite a few ‘Go Heels’ shouts on the Augusta National grounds, helping him feel a little more comfortable.
Although seeing the likes of Tiger Woods through the pines kept the experience firmly in the unreal category.
“I had a lot of fun in my own game,” Greaser said after shooting 2-over 74 in the first round. “But to be standing in the same spot as (Woods) and to be able to compete against him is really, really frickin’ cool.”
But ultimately, once Thursday’s round began, it was simply Greaser and his golf ball. He just happened to be playing in one of sport’s most-famed arenas alongside three-time major champ Padraig Harrington and 2003 Masters winner Mike Weir.
Greaser said he picked the brains of those greats — within reason — over the course of 36 holes, but his confidence gained over the past several months helped him navigate a wind-swept course playing more difficult that usual.
“I think the biggest thing is between the ears,” he said. “Everyone is going to experience good and bad breaks. At the end of the day, it boils down to how you deal with them. That’s going to shape how you play moving forward.”
And he was quick to note that a similar approach last August at Oakmont gave him the blueprint for keeping his wits about him. After pushing through 36 holes of stroke play and five rounds of match play, Greaser led the championship match heading into the final nine before Michigan State’s James Piot rallied to grab the Havemeyer Trophy.
“Oakmont was a little bit tougher than Augusta,” Greaser said, “and I remember saying that everyone’s going to have a tough time this week. There’s going to be shots that everyone struggles with and ones that everyone likes, but we’re all playing the same golf course. Walk up to it and know that you’re going to give it your best.”
Qualifying for the Masters wasn’t the only tangible reward for last summer’s performance in Pittsburgh.
Following the conclusion of his season at UNC, Greaser will also be able to play in June’s U.S. Open at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, an event that has taken up residence in the back of his mind for a while.
Bottom line: Even though he didn’t hoist any hardware at Oakmont, his week on the property was life-altering.
“It obviously moved mountains for me,” Greaser said. “Just feeling like I belonged with the best, meant a lot for me. When I was preparing and hitting balls back home I always felt like that, but actually going out there and executing and beating everyone but one, that did a lot for my confidence, (the idea) that this isn’t just in my head.”
While Greaser’s ball-striking ability stood out upon watching him — he was one of the longest drivers in the field at Oakmont and won a college tourney last fall by holing out from the fairway — he’s determined to make the most of his talents through tactics.
Teaming up with Arccos data insights chief Lou Stagner, whom he reached out to on Twitter two years ago, Greaser has a much better idea of which club to hit off which tee in the heat of competition. By putting together a map of Greaser’s typical shot-dispersion pattern, Stagner has helped him lay out a clear, sober game plan for the all-important first shot of each hole.
“The clubs I’m pulling are statistically-driven,” Greaser stated. “There’s a confidence that comes from that. I’m not just going ‘Oh, this club feels good’ or ‘That club feels good.’ It’s, ‘Over 100 holes, this club is going to give me a better stroke average on this hole.’
“It gives me a little extra confidence. It allows me to swing it even more free.”
Sounds like a young man who has a firm idea of how he wants to get from Point A to Point B, literally. On a grander scale, he has designs on the PGA Tour, although in more immediate terms his Tar Heels have the ACC Championship coming up April 22-25 and the NCAA tournament shortly thereafter.
In other words, Greaser’s got plenty in front of him to keep him occupied, even though he’ll get another shot at competing with the world’s best before summer officially begins.
“I want to win a national championship with this team right now,” Greaser said. “There’s a lot of unfinished business here first. We’ll figure out the U.S. Open after that.”
PGN’s Zac Weiss contributed to this report.