Since Scott Harvey won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship last September, there have been days when his thoughts are of a singular focus. There have also been times when his mind roams beyond the realm of history.
In either instance, the thoughts are on playing the 79th Masters at Augusta National Golf Club. The opportunity is one of Harvey’s perks for winning the national title.
“It has not left my mind since … and that’s OK with me,” said the 36-year-old Harvey of Kernersville.
Nathan Smith, 36, of Pittsburgh, Pa., is well aware of Harvey’s nearly seven-month preoccupation. As the winningest U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, Smith describes the experience as overwhelming.
“It’s like jumping off your couch and playing in the Super Bowl,” said Smith, who received a formal Masters invitation from Augusta National officials each of the times he won the U.S. Mid-Amateur in 2003, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
“You want to enjoy the experience to the maximum, but at the same time you’re trying to compete in a golf tournament. And it’s really hard to wrap your arms around that. It’s almost surreal.”
While the Masters invitation was for winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur title at Saucon Valley Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pa., on Sept. 11, the process was set into motion a few weeks later when Harvey received official correspondence from the club. The packet, as to be expected, left few unanswered questions and outlined such particulars as when he could expect his official invitation, time of the annual amateur dinner, housing information and how to go about setting up practice rounds.
The official invitation arrived on Christmas Eve, and “it’s almost like a formal wedding invitation,” said Harvey, who was required to RSVP with a hand-written note to Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National. “I had already been down there to play some practice rounds, but it becomes 100 percent official when you get the invitation, and then it really hits you.”
Most years, Harvey, a real estate property manager, would taper back his playing in the fall and put his clubs away for a couple of months during winter. This has not been like most years, though, so to be razor sharp Harvey has taken little time off and sought out high-level competition.
Already in 2015, Harvey, No. 55 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking as of March 21, has won the South American Amateur in Peru, tied for 53rd in the Jones Cup Invitational, partnered to win the International Four-Ball’s Mid-Am Division, and won the Gasparilla Invitational.
“Golf is a crazy game and it can come and go as it pleases,” he said. “If I can keep moving forward then I should be OK. I don’t know how I am going to react to all the people and playing in that type of environment because I have never done it before. I know my game is where I want it to be, though.”
Harvey has been working diligently to improve his putting and chipping, but says there is simply no way to simulate the course conditions that will be present during the Masters. On his first trip in November, Harvey shot a 70, which he equates to a 76 under tournament conditions.
“He’s playing great, has got a great game and I think he has a shot to make the cut if he just goes out and plays his game,” Smith said. “No matter what he shoots, though, he’s going to have some great shots to hold onto and remember, and fans going crazy. He just has to free himself up, go out, have fun and not worry so much about what his score is.”
Playing, though, is just one aspect of Masters week at Augusta National.
“There is so much emotion that goes into that week,” said Smith, who remembers he and his father crying as they drove down Magnolia Lane for the first time.
Harvey will stay one night in the fabled Crow’s Nest, an Augusta National Golf Club attic room that has served as housing for amateur players throughout the years. Friends and family have rented a house in Augusta for the week. Harvey will play in Wednesday’s Par 3 Contest, hopefully with his 5-year-old son Cameron on the bag. And when play begins in earnest Thursday, Harvey will turn his bag over to Rocky Manning, a friend who caddied for Harvey during the U.S. Mid-Amateur win.
As for practice rounds, he has lined up a date with Ben Crenshaw, who won the Masters in 1984 and 1995. Crenshaw played and traveled with Harvey’s father, Bill, before Scott was born.
Bill Harvey, who died in October 2013 at age 82, is in the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame after a storied amateur career that included 18 U.S. Amateur Championship appearances and eight Carolinas Golf Association championship titles, including Carolinas Amateur wins in 1964, 1965 and 1973.
“It would be really special for me to spend some time with someone my dad spent a lot of time with and to connect the generations,” Harvey said. “Dad spoke very fondly of Ben and obviously he’s a great champion. It would just be an honor.”
For all the planning and preparation, there also remains the possibility that, just maybe, Harvey will find himself in contention on the back nine on Sunday.
Through the years, a number of amateurs have distinguished themselves in the tournament co-founded by Bobby Jones, perhaps the greatest amateur who won 13 major championships.
The most notable near misses came from Billy Joe Patton in 1954 and Ken Venturi in 1956. In both instances, Patton and Venturi held back-nine leads on Sunday before seeing Sam Snead and Jackie Burke ultimately slip on the green jacket.
There was also 37-year-old Charlie Coe in 1961. Coe shot a Monday final-round 3-under 69 to set the championship’s amateur scoring record of 7-under 281 and tie Arnold Palmer for second.
“Mentally, I have always thought that was the strongest part of my game,” Harvey said. “However, I don’t know how I am going to react to (thousands) of people. I’m certainly not scared about it. I’m excited. I’m going to be nervous, but it’s going to be an exciting nervous.”
Harvey said the most common response from fellow amateurs he sought counsel from was, “the first tee shot is the most terrifying thing you will do in your life.”
Smith chuckled when hearing that advice.
“He’s 100 percent right,” Smith said. “It’s one of those things that is happening so fast. You know where you’re supposed to hit the ball and where it’s suppose to go. You have people everywhere. It’s an outer body experience. You try not to think about it too much, but you can’t help yourself. It’s the Masters.”