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Golf Monthly
Golf Monthly
Fergus Bisset

Best Amateur Performances At The Masters

Guan Tianlang hits a shot during the 2013 Masters

Amateur golfers are held in high regard at The Masters and that’s because one of the club’s founders was Bobby Jones – the greatest amateur ever to play the game of golf.

Each year at Augusta National, the invited amateurs are allowed to stay in the clubhouse for the week, they’re welcomed to the opening dinner and they play the first two rounds in the company of past champions. Indeed the initial scoreboards show all the amateurs' names before play gets going.

Other amateurs have made good showing in The Masters, Matt Kuchar in 1998 and Casey Wittenberg in 2004 for example, but below are what we feel to be some of the best amateur performances at Augusta National...

Ken Venturi: 2nd in 1956

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The 24-year-old held the lead through 54 holes. Against an incredible field including Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer, the young amateur was four shots in front with just 18 holes to play.

In testing conditions, Venturi struggled and came home in 42 to card a closing 80. Jack Burke Jr posted a fine 71 to finish just one shot ahead of the young Venturi.

“Did I choke?” Venturi later said in his autobiography. “If you go by my score you can make that argument, but I choose to look at it differently."

Charlie Coe: T2 in 1961

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Coe is the most successful amateur ever at The Masters. An Augusta National member, he played 19 times and finished in the top 25 on nine occasions.

In 1961, the former WWII pilot was flying under the radar towards the end of the competition as Gary Player and Arnold Palmer fought for the title. Player emerged triumphant but, when Palmer double-bogeyed the 72nd hole he fell back into a tie for second with 37-year-old Coe. The amateur had birdied the 13th, 14th and 15th holes to close with a three-under 69.

Frank Stranahan: T2 in 1947

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Coached by Byron Nelson as a junior, Stranahan (left) won 70 amateur tournaments between 1936 and 1954. He was a great sportsman and had been a champion power lifter and then went on to be a long-distance runner after retiring from competitive golf.

In the 1947 Masters, Stranahan fired a superb final round of 68 to tie Byron Nelson for second place, two behind Jimmy Demaret.

Stranahan fell out with Augusta the next year and his invitation was revoked although he returned the following year and nine further times subsequently. Stranahan also finished in second place in The Open – behind Ben Hogan at Carnoustie in 1953.

Billy Joe Patton: 3rd in 1954

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Patton (left) led after two rounds in 1954, one stroke ahead of the great Ben Hogan, but it seemed his chance had gone as he struggled to a third-round 75 that left him five adrift of 'The Hawk'.

But Patton wasn’t finished. He raced to the turn in 32, a run of holes that included a hole-in-one on the 6th. He found himself one ahead with just six holes to play.

On the par-5 13th, the 32-year-old faced a decision whether to go for the green or not. He decided to be aggressive and it cost him dearly. His second found the water and he walked off the hole with a seven. He finished one shot back of Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Snead went on to win the tournament in a playoff.

Harvie Ward: 4th in 1957

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Ward, a former British and US Amateur champion, trailed Sam Snead by a shot with 18 holes to play in 1957.

He battled hard but couldn’t find the spark on the Sunday. Doug Ford deservedly took the title after a superb final-round 66 and Ward finished in fourth spot.

Jack Nicklaus: T7 in 1961

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Having finished second in the 1960 US Open, the American golfing public were excited to see how the 21-year-old would get on at Augusta in 1961 where he had tied for 13th the previous year.

He played well, finishing in a tie for 7th. Amazingly though, he wasn’t the low amateur that year as Charlie Coe (see above) was tied for second. He would eventually play in a total of 45 Masters, winning the Green Jacket six times.

Ryan Moore: T13 in 2005

Ryan Moore (Image credit: Getty Images)

Over the last 50 years, the standard of play in professional golf and at Augusta has steadily risen and it’s become tougher for amateurs to make an impact at The Masters. Ryan Moore managed it in 2005.

He arrived at the tournament having enjoyed a stellar season on the amateur circuit in 2004. That year he won the NCAA Championship, the US Amateur, US Public Links and Western Amateur.

Moore continued that great form with a superb showing in the 2005 Masters. He played some excellent golf to finish in a tie for 13th.

Hideki Matsuyama: 27th in 2011

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The Japan superstar made his Masters debut in 2011 as an amateur after winning the 2010 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. He finished at one under to become the first amateur since Ryan Moore to shoot under par for the tournament. Just four amateur golfers (Moore, Matsuyama, Hovland and Ogletree) have broken par since 1978.

Hideki shot a 68 on Saturday which was the second-lowest round of the day and matched 2010 winner Phil Mickelson's score of 287 after four rounds.

What made his performance even more impressive was the fact that he wasn't actually going to play in the tournament, as he had spent three weeks prior to The Masters helping back home in Japan after a devastating earthquake hit.

In 2021 Matsuyama produced that spectacular performance to slip into the Green Jacket, the first Asian to win The Masters.

Guan Tianlang: 58th in 2013

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Whilst Tianlang finished in a lowly 58th place at the 2013 Masters, he did capture the Silver Cup and, incredibly, did so at the age of 14.

He qualified by winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and his record-breaking performance at Augusta saw him not only the youngest player to ever tee it up in The Masters but the youngest player to ever make the cut in a men's Major and a PGA Tour event. It's difficult to see those records ever being beaten.

Bizarrely the teenager was penalised a stroke for slow play but he still managed to make it through to the weekend.

Bryson DeChambeau: 21st in 2016

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The Golfing Scientist arrived on the world stage at Augusta fresh off a 2015 that saw him become just the fifth man in history to win the US Amateur and NCAA Division 1 Championship in the same year. The other four golfers to achieve that honour are Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Ryan Moore.

DeChambeau was just one back on the 18th tee on Friday before making a triple-bogey and then shot 77 on Saturday to end any hopes of being in contention in the final round. He closed with a 72 to finish a highly respectable 21st and turned pro the next week at the RBC Heritage.

Viktor Hovland: T32nd in 2019 

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The Oklahoma State graduate entered Augusta as the reigning US Amateur champion and showed us all a glimpse into his very bright future.

He shot 72-71-71-71 to finish at 3-under, beating Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz by a single stroke. The Norwegian went onto win the low amateur honours in record fashion at the US Open before turning professional aged 21.

Two-and-a-half years later, he made his Ryder Cup debut and four years on he is a three-time PGA Tour winner and two-time DP World Tour champion.

Has an amateur ever won The Masters?

No amateur has ever won the Masters, but Frank Stranahan finished T2, two shots behind Jimmy Demaret in 1947. In 1954 Billy Joe Patton finished one stroke out of the Sam Snead-Ben Hogan play-off.

But in 1961 Deane Beman, who would go on to be the PGA Tour commissioner, won the Par 3 Contest, beating Doug Ford for a one-stroke victory.

“I don’t remember much about my round,” Beman said, “but I still have the beautiful tea set that I received for winning.”

How do amateurs qualify for The Masters?

This year we will see six amateurs in the field - Austin Greaser, Stewart Hagestad, Keita Nakajima, Aaron Jarvis, James Piot and Laird Shepherd. 

The ways to landing the golden ticket are current US Amateur champion and runner-up and the winners of the British Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur, Latin America Amateur and the US Mid-Amateur. 

What do the amateurs win at The Masters?

The Masters began the tradition of presenting the Silver Cup to the leading amateur in 1952. Two years later they added a silver medal for the low amateur runner-up.

What is the record score by an amateur at The Masters?

Two-time US Amateur champion Charles Coe set the amateur scoring record in 1961 and it still stands today. He posted a seven-under-par total of 281 to finish T2nd and one stroke shy of Gary Player. Coe played in 15 consecutive Masters and won the low amateur honors five times.

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