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STATESBORO, Ga. — For Ben Carr, it took a few days to sink in.

As he walked off the course at The Ridgewood Country Club in August, the fifth-year Georgia Southern senior knew his U.S. Amateur runner-up finish punched his ticket to the 2023 Masters Tournament. The reality, however, took a few more days to resonate.

“As soon as I went a couple up, I think it just creeps into your mind. You can’t stop thinking about it and you’re trying so hard to focus on the golf and finishing the match,” he said. “It finally sunk in when I got home. I actually got Covid, so I had a week to sit in my room and not do a whole lot. That’s when it kind of became real.”

The 22-year-old Columbus native comes to Augusta National Golf Club with a limited knowledge of the course (he’s played three practice rounds at Augusta to this point). What he has, though, is the ability to lean on a couple of veterans to glean some knowledge prior to tournament week.

“I’m pretty close with Larry Mize and Russell Henley. They both live in Columbus, so I got to spend a bunch of time with them over the Christmas break and just kind of pick their brains a little bit,” he said. “Larry’s a Masters champion and Russell is playing in his seventh Masters, so between the two of them they have all the experience in the world. Just being able to lean on them and learn as much as I can was really important for me.”

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Carr, Mize and Henley plan to play the Par 3 Contest together Wednesday, with Carr’s younger brother, Sackett, on the bag.

Looking back to his first practice round in February, it’s easy to see why the first trip down Magnolia Lane is a watershed moment for many players who’ve had the opportunity to play Augusta.

“It was pretty surreal. The first time I played it, my brother got to play with me. We pulled in Magnolia Lane and my truck was in front of his car and I was looking through the rearview mirror to see his facial expressions and he was just wide-eyed,” Carr said. “I was pretty nervous the first time because I didn’t know what to do. I was walking on egg shells, but I’m starting to get a little more comfortable out there.”

While in a somewhat controlled environment, those practice rounds provided valuable experience as to how the course will behave in April.

“I feel like the biggest thing for me in the three times I’ve been so far has been learning where not to hit it. I think there’s a spot or two on every hole you just have to avoid, especially with certain hole locations. Learning where to miss it is a common theme between guys who have had success there,” Carr said. “It’s not necessarily about being perfect, but not making the big mistakes. If you’re able to keep the ball in front of you and miss in the right spots, you roll in a few putts, you’re making the cut and onto the weekend.”

A common theme among first-timers is that watching the tournament on television doesn’t do the course justice, from the standpoint of elevation changes and speed of the greens. From his time at Augusta as a patron to teeing up on No. 1, Carr said that became an obstacle early on.

“I had been out there when I was 12 or 13, so I wasn’t paying attention to any of the undulation, but watching the tournament you just don’t realize how big the slopes are in the fairways, on the greens and really everywhere,” he said. “There’s so much elevation change everywhere you look and just having to learn the ins and outs of the greens and where to put it around the greens and how to use the slopes to your advantage has been key to me.”

For that knowledge and guidance, Donald Cooper will be on the bag for Carr during the tournament. Cooper is a veteran caddie with success at Augusta and in other majors (including a U.S. Open win in 2009), bringing with him a wealth of knowledge.

“He’s been on Lucas Glover’s bag for the better part of 20 years, he’s been on the bag for a major championship win, he’s caddied seven or eight Masters, maybe 10. My swing coach used to train Lucas and he got pretty close with Coop during their time. He kind of hooked us up and I’m really excited because I’m really going to be leaning on him hard.”

Cooper’s and Carr’s plan is simple: take what the course gives and pick spots to be aggressive.

“Something my caddie and I talked about is just trying to avoid big numbers,” Carr said. “There are scoring holes on the back nine, especially, so trying to run into birdies and not trying to force the issue will be really important.”

An often overlooked aspect of a college golfer playing at Augusta is the size of the crowd. The numbers of patrons on the course will likely dwarf any crowd Carr has seen to this point. He’s prepared to take the good with the bad, knowing there may be a few extra cheers in store for the Georgia Southern Eagle.

“The U.S. Am was the first time I’ve played in front of a crowd, so I think being able to draw back on that experience will help me a lot,” he said. “Just getting comfortable with hearing some cheers and hitting bad shots in front of people, that’s something you’ve got to get comfortable with. At first, it’s a little embarrassing, but everybody hits bad shots. You’ve just got to block out the crowd as best you can. Some people like to embrace it, but I’m somewhere in the middle. I think a lot of those experiences have helped me with the crowds, for sure.”

While the numbers on the scorecard matter, it’s important for amateurs to let the overall experience to carry the day. While he surely wants to compete for the coveted low amateur position, Carr made a point to take in every aspect of the week at Augusta and share it with his friends and family.

“Honestly, I’m just going to allow myself to be starstruck. I’ve never been able to play the same golf course at the same time as a lot of these guys I watch on TV,” he said. “I want to make the cut, have a chance to be low amateur and all that stuff; but I really just want to have a good experience. I don’t want to get so caught up in playing to where it takes away from how special it is to have the honor of being an amateur playing at the Masters.”