AUGUSTA, Ga. – Amid the 10-day celebration that the Masters has become, a young Minnesotan made a mark Sunday at Augusta National, and he felt appreciated.
Sam Udovich of Inver Grove Heights won the boys 11-12 age group of the Drive, Chip and Putt national finals. He admitted that was cool. He seemed to think what happened next was sweeter yet: Justin Thomas, the second-ranked player in the world, gave him props.
"He just came over and said, 'Hey, great job, congratulations.' He was going to tee off in like two minutes, so it was great for him to say congratulations," Udovich said.
The competition involved 80 kids from 30 states, Canada and France, ages 7 to 17. Other champions came from Nevada, Florida, California, Ohio, Texas and Cambridge, Ontario.
"We're excited to see all the smiles on their faces," Augusta National Chairman Fred Ridley said.
Sunday presented something of a three-ring circus setting at Augusta. A stream of people young and older walked on a path along the driving range, most of them carrying bags from the golf shop.
To their right were Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson, smashing drivers into the horizon, one fueled by protein shakes and the other by his own brand of coffee.
More surprising was a Brooks Koepka sighting, considering he had surgery less than three weeks ago.
Koepka, a four-time major champion, plans to play this week though he's not even three weeks removed from surgery on his right knee.
This action began last week, when 82 of the best women amateurs in the world competed in the Augusta National Women's Amateur. Japanese teenager Tsubasa Kajitani beat Emilia Migliaccio in a playoff to win and broke down in tears.
By late afternoon Sunday, the focus had shifted to the pros. Thomas, who won the Players Championship three weeks ago, is among the favorites. So is Jon Rahm, now with nothing but winning on his mind after his wife gave birth to their first child on Friday.
Dustin Johnson is the defending champion. The calendar says he won 140 days ago on Nov. 15, the first autumn Masters because of the pandemic. The azaleas that were popping with color Sunday made it feel like November never happened.
"Now this looks like Augusta," Billy Horschel, winner of the recent Dell Match Play, said as he waited to tee off.
Rory McIlroy, in pursuit of the green jacket he needs to complete the career Grand Slam, stuck to the putting green. Mickelson eventually played the course, alone.
DeChambeau was playing with two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson against a pair of Augusta National members, including former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
DeChambeau wanted to know how many strokes they would be giving.
"Condi negotiated it," Watson replied.