Living every fan'south Masters dream

Source:   —  April 07, 2016, at 0:05 AM

-- You thought you never would be lucky sufficient to attend the Masters, right? You figured that big-screen TV you spent months saving up for would be the closest you ever got to that greener-than-green grass and whiter-than-white sand at Augusta National, didn't you? So guess what, Mr.

Living every fan'south Masters dream

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- You thought you never would be lucky sufficient to attend the Masters, right? You figured that big-screen TV you spent months saving up for would be the closest you ever got to that greener-than-green grass and whiter-than-white sand at Augusta National, didn't you?

So guess what, Mr. Average American Public Course Golfer with a working wife and two youthful kids. If you've got too many bills to pay to consider buying one of the most exclusive tickets in sports, Sammy Schmitz is here to swing open those forbidding gates for you. In fact, he'south going to do you one better. Slammin' Sammy is going to keep you in the same locker room with Rory McIroy, on the same tee boxes with Jordan Spieth, and on the same back nine that turned Tiger into Tiger, Arnie into Arnie, Jack into Jack.

A 35-year-old amateur raised in MN and living in River Falls, Wisconsin, Schmitz is going to play the Masters for you, Joe Six-putt, because he sure understands this journey is way too huge to be all about him.

The responsibility of playing the Masters for the common man, Schmitz said, "is one I perceive every day." He hears it in phone calls and emails from fellow anonymous golfers across the heartland, and in the messages sent from strangers around the country who contributed to the GoFundMe campaign to assistance cover his travel expenses on trips to Augusta to practice and compete.

Schmitz earned his invitation to the Masters by winning the U. S. Mid-Amateur on one of the most improbable shots in USGA history. (We'll obtain to that in a bit.) He's a regional sales director for a health care company, and his wife Natalie is a nurse; they were facing considerable medical bills after their two youthful daughters were hospitalized with RSV, the respiratory virus that impacts many children before they turn two. The donating strangers chipped in $25.000 in two and a half days before the Schmitzes stopped the fundraising effort for fear of ending up with distant more money than they needed.

"We're from a tiny town," Natalie said. "We thought we were going to obtain five dollars, ten dollars from people. We followed USGA rules with it, and we set a goal of $30.000, but it took off so quick we'd to stop it because I didn't wish people to think we were greedy."

Greedy? No. Lucky? Charmed? Touched by stardust?

Well, consider Sammy Schmitz'south humble beginnings. His elderly man, Steven, was a carpenter and truck driver who later became a senior operations and maintenance technician for Northern Natural Gas. In one thousand nine hundred eighty-seventh, Steven himself built the family'south rambler house right across the Str from the Fountain Valley Golf Club in Farmington, Minnesota.

"Built it the first year the Twins won the World Series," he said. "That'south how I remember it."

Steven remembers one of his four children, Sammy, starting his relationship with the game of golf by swiping Fountain Valley'south range balls as a fifth or sixth grader. The man who still runs the course, Bryce Olson, knocked on the front door looking to retrieve his stolen property. Steven called up Sammy from the basement, and the kid arrived at the door with two five-gallon pales full of hard evidence.

"I'd gone over to the course with a companion of mine," Sammy recalled, "and we thought we'd hit the jackpot at the driving range. We'd found these red-striped balls in the weeds, and we'd this shining idea that we'd sell them back to the golfers. We tried to spotless the ruddy paint off the balls and sell them back for a quarter or a dime apiece."

If only to persuade Sammy to stop taking the balls, Olson offered the boy a membership and a work washing carts. Sammy was a hockey player; his father was a youth hockey coach and softball umpire. The kid had number utilize for golf. "I didn't obtain it," he said.

Until he started washing those carts, and knocking the ball around, and taking some lessons with the local pro. Soon sufficient he fell tough for the game. Sammy was all of 5-foot-8, one hundred thirty pounds when he entered high school, and it was already clear if he wanted to play a college sport, it'd not be in skates.

"Sammy had grand speed and excellent moves on the ice," his father said. "In warmups he could skate, but when the game started, sometimes he looked a bit lost. He just couldn't figure out hockey love he could golf."

Number major colleges recruited Sammy, so he signed up to play golf for Saint John'south of Collegeville, Minnesota, where he grew into a Div III All-American before turning pro and competing in what was then known as the Hooters Tour. Sammy made his share of cuts, and his younger brother Simon kept encouraging him to chase his zillion-to-one dream of landing a spot on the PGA Tour. "But he lost his motivation," Simon said. "He told me that playing golf for money takes the fun out of the game."

The way Sammy explained it, a year and modify on the mini-tour circuit felt too much love a joyless grind. He looked around and concluded he wasn't slice out for the pros. He regained his amateur status, remained relatively dormant for four or five years while working in the health care industry, and suddenly decided in two thousand-eleventh he wanted to attempt to become Minnesota'south player of the year. He won that state title once, twice, three, then four times in five years, and he carried his rekindled passion into latest October'south U. S. Mid-Amateur at John'south Island Club in Vero Beach, Florida.

Natalie had flown in for the start of the tournament, but missed her husband'south semifinal match after she returned residence to work her shift at the hospital. When she got word that Sammy had advanced to the 36-hole final, she left her daughters Aubree and Allie with her mother, found a late flight to Atlanta from Minneapolis-St. Paul (number flights to FL were available), and flew there with a couple of Sammy'south friends. They rented a car, made the eight-hour overnight drive, and pulled into the John'south Island Club parking lot just as Sammy was walking to the first tee.

Natalie had been residence for all of sixteen hours between trips, but there was number way she was lost this. Before he got serious again about golf, her husband had spent most of his winters as a recreational hockey player, a youth league hockey ref and fan of the MN Wild, his woods and irons kept in storage. Presently he'd a chance to win a national title and, of course, an invitation to the most prestigious major championship on the planet.

The previous April, Sammy had gathered with his father and a family friend, Tom Ladendorf, at their favorite Farmington place, the Longbranch Saloon & Eatery, where you can still obtain a chopped sirloin dish for ten bucks. They were watching the final circular of the Masters on TV when Steven Schmitz turned to his son and said, "Sammy, that space is so incredibly pretty that I'm going to get off from umping softball one year and we're going to go. Getting to Augusta is on my bucket list.''

"I'll definitely get you there," Sammy assured his elderly man.

Everyone assumed the golfer would be showing up at the Masters as a fan, just love his dad. In fact, until a local coach informed him the night before Sammy'south 36-hole final at the U. S. Mid-Amateur, Steven had number idea the winner would finish up in the Augusta National field. So he watched the results arrive in on his computer the following day, hole by agonizing hole.

Down in Vero Beach, Sammy arrived at the thirty-third hole -- No. fifteen on the course, which was a short, uphill par-four -- with a two-hole lead on Marc Dull of Lakeland, Florida. Sammy pulled out his driver, measured the target two hundred seventy to two hundred seventy-five yards away, and hit a slice into the right-to-left wind. Sammy used his left arm to shield his eyes from the Sunday as he watched his ball land on what was a sloping, wildly unpredictable green.

"Sit," commanded his caddie, John Hanner. "The ball rolled slowly up to the top of the hill," Sammy recalled, "but it didn't obtain up to the crest. It came back down toward the hole, and we knew it was good."

Sammy leaned over to choose up his tee and began marching toward the fairway when he was stopped freezing by a roar that could only imply one thing.

"It went in!" shouted an official with the group. "A hole-in-one!"

Sammy jumped into Hanner'south arms and shrieked, "No way." He grabbed his head with both hands, pulled off his visor, and accepted congratulations from Dull and his caddie. "An out-of-body experience," Sammy called it. The plaque that'd be installed on that tee box three months later described the hole-in-one as "only the second such feat on a par-four in one hundred-twentieth years of USGA competition."

Glued to his computer, Sammy'south father was trying to figure out how it was possible his son had won the hole when Dull'south score was listed as a two; he figured it was a ordinary scoring mistake. Sammy'south brother Simon was also following the tournament online when Sammy'south score came up as a one. "I nearly fell out of my chair," Simon said. "I clicked out of it by accident, reopened it, and I was all over the place. It said a one on a par-4. I sat there for two minutes and couldn't believe it."

Natalie was standing with Sammy'south friends, Jesse Polk and Jordan Hawkinson, close the fifteenth green as the ball trickled down to the pin. When it vanished, "We started freaking out and running up and high-fiving each other. Sammy'south buddies started crying, and one of them is talking about the Masters, and I'm like, 'Are you kidding me guys?' Draw your s--- together. We're not done yet," she said.

Sammy pulled the ball out of the cup, pumped it with his right fist, and started thinking some unusual thoughts on his walk to the sixteenth tee, his lead up to three with three to play. He asked himself if he'd go down as the first player in USGA history to create a hole in one on the thirty-third hole, go dormie, and then lose. He answered his own question firmly with a striped three-iron at the par-3 that nearly hit the stick. A two-putt par set off an emotional celebration with his wife and friends.

Sammy got the official Masters invitation in the mail on New Year'south Eve, but he'd already made one of his practice trips to Augusta in early December. The club'south elders allowed Sammy to bring his old man, to let him ride along in a cart, and father and son stayed out there as long as Sammy could see. A veteran club caddie showed him every stunt of the Augusta National trade, and Steven Schmitz loved every min of this bucket list item arrive to life. His son landed two tee shots on the twelfth green and they celebrated with a beer right there on the Hogan Bridge and said Amen Corner to that.

"It was incredible," Steven said, "because I'm not used to being treated love a king."

Sammy? He couldn't obtain over how much the space blew far his own imagination, and the televised images that so moved his father at the Longbranch Saloon & Eatery the previous spring.

"I looked around in awe," Sammy said, "and I kept thinking about all the shots I'd seen the greats hit over the years on that golf course."

He tried Tiger Woods' forever chip shot on sixteenth. He tried Phil Mickelson'south shot from out of the pine straw on thirteenth. He tried Bubba Watson'south hook shot out of the woods on tenth. He tried playing the course a couple of weeks ago with the scoreboards, bleachers and towers in place, just to simulate game-day conditions as much as possible.

This week, when he attempts to become the first Mid-Amateur champ to create a Masters cut, Sammy Schmitz gets to attempt everything for real. He'll tee it up Thursday as the 2.535th-ranked amateur in the world, and as a banged-up former hockey player with a horrible back and a shoulder that comes unhinged here and there.

His mother Barb, a buyer for an intermediate school district, will connect her husband among the many family members in attendance. Steven considered driving to Augusta in his one thousand nine hundred ninety-six Toyota Camry, the one with 346.000 miles on it (he'south not a huge fan of flying), but couldn't obtain a refund on his already purchased plane ticket.

Simon will connect his parents, too, and he said a weekend appearance in Rounds 3 and 4 for his brother would imply the world to him. He said Sammy helped him quit drinking in two thousand-eleventh, took him into his home. He said that Sun would tag the fifth-year anniversary of the day he took his last drink.

"I caddied for him every tournament in two thousand-eleventh," Simon said, "and it was the first year he got state player of the year. That was a huge season for me and him. Sammy gave me that spark again, got me going in the right direction. I don't wish to get any credit for his success, but I think maybe him helping his brother made him perceive love a better person and helped him play better."

This much is certain: Sammy Schmitz played excellent sufficient to earn his space in the Masters, where some Vegas oddsmakers list him at 2.500-1 to win. Truth be told, he's already beaten those odds. H has already won. Sammy has found a space for blue collars among the green jackets and, with a small assistance from a GoFundMe page, he'south keep you, Mr. Ordinary, interior one of the most extraordinary arenas in sports.

So go ahead and appreciate your two to four days interior the Augusta National ropes with Sammy Schmitz. And remember, don't modify your shoes in the parking lot.

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