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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Stepping up to the first tee box at Augusta National Golf Club Thursday can generate many emotions.

Fear, nervousness, excitement.

For amateur competitors, many who have not played a competitive round of golf in front of thousands of people, a Masters Tournament start can be overwhelming.

That’s where the tournament committee comes into play. Pairing amateurs with former champions creates a learning atmosphere that can lead to lifelong lessons in the game of golf. It’s not just for the benefit of the amateurs, either.

How Masters champs, amateurs are paired

How does that all happen? Do the champions get a say in who they’re paired with?

“No,” 1987 Masters champ Larry Mize said. “The tournament committee does that.”

Part of that remains a mystery.

What we do know is the reigning Masters champ is usually paired with the reigning U.S Amateur champ – i.e., Sam Bennett and 2022 champ Scottie Scheffler. The rest, it seems, is up to the tournament committee.

Passing the torch

The dynamic isn’t black and white. For many of these players, they’re competing for a green jacket Sunday. Remaining in competitive mode while serving as an ambassador for the Masters and professional golf takes a special mindset.

“You know, I think at this stage of my life, this stage professionally, where I’m at in my personal life, you cheer them on. You watch these young kids. You want them to succeed. You want them to be able to feel what I felt,” two-time Masters champ Bubba Watson said. “Even though I’m trying to beat them, I hope they feel it a year after. I hope I feel it this year and they feel it next year. But you pull for them. You hit good shots. You try to encourage them. You just try to tell them good putt, good shot, and hopefully they enjoy their experience around here however the weather is.”

Masters 2023 leaderboard: Get the latest news from Augusta

Five-time Masters champion Tiger Woods remembers his time as an amateur at the 1995 Masters, playing with Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd, and connected it to his role as a veteran in 2023.

“Well, I’m probably sharing more and more knowledge now because of the fact that I was always asking guys how to play this golf course. So it was that transition where I was asking all the guys how to play this golf course, and then now they are asking me how to play,” he said.

“Again, it’s one of the neat things about this tournament and the history. It’s to be able to see the different generations and be able to be a part of that, and as I said, playing — you go back to ’95 and playing with Freddie and Raymond. I still to this day — Fred texts me almost every day. It’s one of those neat things to build these memories in these practice rounds and at this tournament.”

A learning experience

While he will be paired with Bernhard Langer, Georgia Southern senior Ben Carr had the opportunity to play two practice rounds with Mize this week. He said Mize’s presence and advice went a long way toward calming his nerves.

Woods remembers his time as an amateur at the 1995 Masters, playing with Fred Couples and Raymond Floyd, and connected it to his role as a veteran in 2023.

“Gosh, Larry’s told me several times, I mean, you can get in the habit of playing just like uber conservative out here,” Carr said. “I mean, there’s definitely shots you want to play conservatively, but he says to take advantage of the opportunities you get.”

Mize, who announced in January this would be his last competitive appearance at Augusta National, has a simple message for the seven amateurs in the field this week.

“Enjoy it. When it gets down to it, the more you enjoy it, the better you’re going to play. Don’t make — as hard as it is not to make too much out of it because it’s such a tremendous golf tournament,” he said. “It’s a major. To me, it’s the ultimate golf tournament. But just to really enjoy it and trust your talent, believe in it, and just let it go. You’ve got to respect this golf course, but you can’t fear it. You can’t play in fear out there, or it’s going to be a long week.”

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