Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

No storybook day for Masters amateur Steve Wilson, but it doesn't matter

Steve Wilson, pictured at a course near his Mississippi home last month, won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September.

Steve Wilson, pictured at a course near his Mississippi home last month, won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — The putt does not always have to fall for a story to end happily. Sometimes the reward is in the journey. Sometimes the payoff is in the memory.

Just ask the golfer walking off the 18th green of Augusta National late Thursday afternoon. The one with no sponsor on his visor and no magic in his bag. Steve Wilson shot an opening-round 79 at the Masters, which put him behind 90 of the 96 golfers on the course. He has little chance of making the cut, and no prayer of making history.

And still, the day will count among the very best of his life. I mean, how often does a guy go from the deli counter of a Mississippi gas station to the first tee of the world's greatest golf tournament?

"If he never does anything more in golf after this, I think he'll be fine with that," his older brother Dave Wilson said. "This is enough."

Chances are, you never heard of Steve Wilson before this week, but you probably know his type: a pretty good golfer around town who, word has it, might have even been something back in the day.

That was Wilson, who thought he hit the big time when he was a star at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College 20 years ago. And that was Wilson, who for a decade fancied himself as a pro prospect before reality kicked in. And that was Wilson, who until recently had abandoned golf to raise a family and go into business as co-owner of a couple of gas stations.

"He played on the mini- tours until I ran out of money," his father, Tom Wilson, said. "I was a retired Air Force sergeant, so I couldn't afford to build him a green and a sand trap in the back yard like Phil Mickelson's dad did.

"It was always up to him. If I had more money, he would have made it here a lot sooner. Instead, he did it all by himself. And that makes it a lot better."

Steve Wilson is 39 now, and among the most unlikely participants the Masters has known. This is not the U.S. Open, with its numerous qualifiers for club pros and other dreamers. This is not some PGA Tour stop with sponsor's exemptions.

Augusta National is certainly not shy about keeping its doors closed to pretenders. Five amateurs qualified for this year's Masters, and four are up-and-comers between 18 and 21. And then there is Wilson.

A guy who has busied himself the past few years playing in four-man scrambles and forgettable tournaments around Mississippi. That was until he won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September and earned a Masters invitation.

He went from making po' boy sandwiches at his BP station in Gautier, Miss. — roast beef with gravy for $5.59 plus tax — to driving to Augusta at every opportunity to get in as many practice rounds as possible.

And there he was Thursday morning, in a threesome with former Masters champion Tom Watson and Ian Poulter. Wilson was happily chatting with fans when Gary Martin, his caddie and gas station business partner, saw Watson gesturing to them. They were literally moments away from his 11:29 a.m. tee time and were still on the putting green.

"I said, 'Steve, I think we have to go now,' " Martin said, shaking his head. "It's a good thing we were shooting third, because if he was first, we might not have made it on time."

As it was, the round began well enough, with Wilson nailing his first drive down the middle of the fairway. By the time he was walking up to the third green, he looked to his left and saw his name on the giant lead- erboard. It was sandwiched between Padraig Harrington and Tiger Woods.

"Yeah," Wilson later said, grinning, "we're all about the same."

Slowly the course began to bite him. He was 1 over through four holes before getting bogeys on three of the next four. When he got a birdie at No. 16, he might have entertained thoughts of making the cut. But then he missed a short birdie putt at No. 17 and went into the trees for double bogey at No. 18.

"It's a lot of pressure that just doesn't stop," Wilson said. "It's like your hands are always shaking. You don't want everybody to see that, so you speed things up and hit before you're really comfortable."

Once upon a time, Wilson gave up his dream to be a pro golfer. The kid who used to hit little plastic balls for hours at a time had a little boy of his own and decided it was time to move on.

Now, just about a decade later, Wilson is in the Masters. And in Wednesday's par-3 contest, his 9-year-old son, Gavan, served as his caddie and took over the putter on the final hole.

"I'm sure in some ways it was difficult for him to give up on golf," his wife, Shelly Wilson, said. "But he's always said he never had any regrets. Once our son was born, he wanted to be there to see him grow up. That was more important to him."

This isn't the way Wilson once imagined it. Not making his PGA Tour debut until he was nearly 40. Not shooting a 79 in his first round in the Masters. Not knowing whether he would ever play a tour event again.

No, this wasn't quite the way Steve Wilson dreamed of it as a child. But, by the end of the day, it was close enough.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]

No storybook day for Masters amateur Steve Wilson, but it doesn't matter 04/09/09 [Last modified: Friday, April 10, 2009 8:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Lightning's Steve Yzerman enjoying Nikita Kucherov's scoring run

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov, of Russia, celebrates after scoring a goal on the New Jersey Devils during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
  3. Bucs journal: Offense needs to get off to a faster start


    TAMPA — The past two games have seen the Bucs offense muster furious rallies in the fourth quarter of losses, with 229 yards against the Patriots and a franchise-record 27 points against the Cardinals.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.
  4. NFL players, owners hold 'constructive' talks on issues


    NEW YORK — NFL players and owners met Tuesday to discuss social issues, a session Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross called "constructive" and Colts defensive back Darius Butler termed "positive."

    A coalition of advocacy groups 'take a knee' outside of a hotel where members the quarterly NFL league meetings are being held on Tuesday in New York City.  Owners, players and commissioner Roger Goodell are all expected to attend. The activists spoke of having solidarity with athletes and coaches around the country who have also kneeled in protest of racial injustice, especially in policing.
 [Getty Images]
  5. Lightning's Steve Yzerman: Nikita Kucherov 'wants to be great'


    If anyone knows what it is like to be as hot as Nikita Kucherov is right now, it's Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman.

    Nikita Kucherov joined Steve Yzerman, Mario Lemieux and Keith Tkachuk as the only players in the last 30 years to score a goal in each of his team's first six games.