Amateurs Prepare to Compete in 2015 Masters April 8, 2015 | Augusta, Ga. By Dave Shedloski

2014 U.S. Amateur Public Links champion Byron Meth practiced at Augusta National with Rory McIlroy on Monday. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Scott Harvey’s primary goal during his first Masters Tournament is rather complex. Having been on-site since last Tuesday, he’s making sure he learns Augusta National Golf Club thoroughly without wearing himself out, which has required a delicate balance of time on the course and the range.

“It’s hard, I can tell you that,” said Harvey, 36, of Kernersville, N.C., who earned his Masters invitation by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur last September at Saucon Valley Country Club. “All you want to do is keep playing the course. But I think I’ve played it enough without getting tired. It is a very difficult golf course to walk.”

Harvey is one of seven amateurs in the field, four of which earned their invitations through USGA championships. The other three are Gunn Yang (U.S. Amateur champion), Corey Conners (U.S. Amateur runner-up) and Byron Meth (U.S. Amateur Public Links champion). Bradley Neil, of Scotland, Matias Dominguez, of Chile, and Antonio Murdaca, of Australia, claimed the British Amateur, Latin America Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur championships, respectively.

Augusta National has been hard on U.S. Mid-Amateur champions in general. No Mid-Am winner has made the cut in the Masters since the winner first earned an invitation in 1989. Danny Green came the closest, missing the weekend by one stroke in 2000. Nathan Smith, a four-time Mid-Amateur champion, needed a par on 18 to make the cut in 2004, but posted a double-bogey 6.

The highlight of Harvey’s week was meeting Tiger Woods on Friday. The four-time Masters winner and three-time U.S. Open champion initiated introductions, and, knowing Harvey was an amateur invitee, congratulated him on his appearance in the tournament.

“He stopped over and said hello, which I thought was very nice,” said Harvey, who admits to being a huge Woods fan. “That was very cool. I had always wanted to meet him because I think he’s great for the game. He moves the needle for me as far as interest level.”

Harvey, who played two practice rounds with 2012 U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, capped his preparation with his participation in Wednesday’s Par-3 Tournament. He played with Meth and former U.S. Amateur champion Vinny Giles. Harvey’s son, Cameron, served as his caddie.

He also got to say hello to two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. Harvey’s late father Bill, who competed in 23 USGA championships, competed against Crenshaw in junior golf.

Harvey is grouped with Kevin Stadler and 2008 Masters winner Trevor Immelman for the first two rounds. They begin play at  11:14 a.m. EDT on Thursday. The real estate property manager had few expectations beyond enjoying the experience.

“It’s going to be a great week, no matter what,” he said. “But, obviously, it would be better if I hung around for the weekend, for a lot of reasons.”

Gunn Yang

Reigning U.S. Amateur champion Gunn Yang hasn’t found Augusta National Golf Club all that intimidating.

“It’s hard on a couple of greens, but I feel fairly confident on the course, and I think it’s a lot of fun with all the undulations,” said Yang. “You get to hit a lot of different shots.”

Conversely, the experience that Yang found slightly overwhelming is his stay in the Crow’s Nest in the upper section of the clubhouse. “It’s pretty cool,” said Yang, 21, a junior at San Diego State who was born in the Republic of Korea. “I think it might be one of the most special things I will ever say about my golf career. All the legends have stayed there, and it’s special to say that I stayed in the same place as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and players like that.”

Yang has a familiar face serving as his caddie this week: Atlanta Athletic Club member Richard Grice, who carried Yang's bag during his magical run to the 2014 U.S. Amateur title in Atlanta.

Having arrived last Thursday, Yang played numerous practice rounds leading up to his first-round starting time with defending Masters champion Bubba Watson and 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose. His final warmup was a nine-hole tour with three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.

He felt ready to compete but wasn’t sure what to expect hitting shots next to the long-hitting Watson for two days. “I think Bubba plays a different game that I probably won’t recognize.”

Corey Conners

A nine-hole practice round with fellow Canadian Mike Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, capped a whirlwind six days for U.S. Amateur runner-up Corey Conners.

“What a tremendous experience that was,” said a gushing Conners after he walked off the ninth green. “I grew up watching Mike when I was a kid, and it was great to play with him, and it’s even better that I get to play with him [during the first two rounds].”

Conners and Weir  go off at 8:18 a.m. along with American Ben Crane.

The 23-year-old Kent State graduate believes that making the cut is well within his capabilities. He held off turning professional due to his Masters invitation, a decision he hasn’t regretted. Few can say  they have woken up in the morning inside the Augusta National clubhouse and viewed one of the world’s most famous courses from a window.

“I’m having the time of my life, obviously. It’s just been an amazing few days for me. I can’t stop smiling,” said Conners. “I mean, how can you not be happy at such a beautiful place like this?”

Byron Meth

Byron Meth, a University of the Pacific senior, admits having mixed emotions about playing in the Masters as the final U.S. Amateur Public Links champion.

“It’s a tremendous honor, but it’s a little sad, too,” said Meth, 22, of San Diego. “To know I’m the last one to play here feels a little strange. But I am the answer to a great trivia question.”

Meth arrived last Wednesday and has played either nine or 18 holes every day except Sunday. He said it’s been hard to pick out one outstanding highlight of his week. “There have been so many, starting with playing five holes with [2011 U.S. Open champion] Rory [McIlroy] on Monday,” he said.

The topper occurred on Tuesday when he joined 2014 Masters runner-up Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka and Morgan Hoffmann for nine holes.

“Morgan, Brooks and Jordan are sort of the same age, but we’re all sort of contemporaries,” he said. “It was a nice experience, just like playing nine holes with buddies.”

On Thursday, he joins England’s Danny Willett and 1987 Masters champion Larry Mize in the second grouping off at 7:56 a.m. He hopes the rest of the week – preferably four days instead of two – are equally as fun.

“I’ve done all my preparation, and the last few days have been an absolute blast,” Meth said. “It’s very difficult, but it’s manageable. I picked up bits and pieces every day. I’m just absorbing it all and having the time of my life, which is what you’d hope for.”

Dave Shedloski is an Ohio-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.

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