Tech’s Ogletree finally gets his tee time with Tiger at Masters

Georgia Tech's Andy Ogletree meets the press Monday at his first Masters.
Georgia Tech's Andy Ogletree meets the press Monday at his first Masters.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

Credit: Photo courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club

AUGUSTA — At least one major element of the playing-with-Tiger-Woods-night-terrors is no longer in play for young Andy Ogletree here on the verge of his Masters debut.

As the 2019 U.S. Amateur champion, he’ll be paired with the defending champion — Woods — Thursday and Friday at the displaced Masters. Significantly, because of the closed gate policy for this tournament due to the coronavirus pandemic, Ogletree will not have to deal with the usual cyclonic swirl of fan attention that trails Woods’ every step.

Explore2020 Masters: First-round pairings, tee times

On one hand, it’s a shame Ogletree won’t get the full-volume experience of playing major tournament rounds with the player who is to golf what a blender is to a smoothie.

On the other, a quieter atmosphere should help soothe the inevitable nerves that Ogletree will bring to the first tee Thursday. It should be quiet and tranquil as a day spa out there, minus only the new age music.

The anticipation of playing with Woods has been simmering longer than usual because of the move of this Masters to November to accommodate the virus. It has been 15 months since the then Georgia Tech senior won the amateur – heck, another U.S. Am has been staged since then, won by another Tech player, Tyler Strafaci, who presumably will get his Masters shot next April, global health willing.

“Right after I won the U.S. Am, I thought about (playing with Woods) a lot,” Ogletree said here Monday. “You imagine the big crowds. You imagine playing with Tiger. You imagine the roars. You imagine people running up to see Tiger and then running to the next hole after he taps in, stuff like that.”

Although let it be known there is never, ever, any running allowed at Augusta National.

“The past few weeks, it’s become a lot more real that I’m actually playing with him, not necessarily thinking about the crowds and the experience,” Ogletree said. "It’s more I’m just like playing in the same arena as Tiger.

“I think just to be paired with him is awesome. I mean, he was definitely an inspiration to me early on in the game. And I don’t know how much we’ll talk and how much interaction we’ll have, but just to play, that’s good enough to me.”

Seems like the kid from Union, Miss. (population barely five figures), the son of a Piggly Wiggly store owner who sheathed his driver in a Tiger head cover throughout his youth, has come to an understanding with what’s facing him this week.

Accompanying Ogletree on this muted Masters are his parents and his grandmother, whose job it is to keep everyone fueled on country cooking. Toting his bag will be Tech assistant golf coach Devin Stanton.

Given coronavirus limitations, the amateurs this year are sleeping in the famed crow’s nest atop the Augusta National clubhouse on a rotating basis. Ogletree’s night is Wednesday, although he hopes to be in position to get back in on the weekend after the cut.

Ogletree brings a game that he has tried out a handful of times this summer on the PGA Tour (still as an amateur invitee) to limited success. He was there at Colonial for the restart and shot 73-69 and missed the cut. Just as he has missed the cut at RBC Heritage (73-70), the Memorial (77-81) and September’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot (71-77).

Kindly call those educational experiences.

“I learned a lot playing those Tour events, and I feel like all those different learning experiences have prepared me for this moment,” said Ogletree, who also has a bank of experience here having played Augusta National nearly a dozen times.

“I haven’t played well. I’ve learned a lot and I feel like now that my game feels like it’s in a good spot to play well and use all the things that I’ve learned, especially at the U.S. Open. Major championship golf is just different than any other type of golf.”

In the coronavirus confusion one young golfer’s state of limbo is a relatively minor inconvenience. Like every other program Tech shut down golf this spring, shorting out Ogletree’s promising senior season. He was committed to holding on to his amateur status however long it would take to cash in his Masters invitation. “I wouldn’t give up any chance to play the Masters as an amateur for anything,” he said. “If I had to wait till next year, I was going to do it.”

While seniors have the option of an additional season of eligibility because of the shutdown, Ogletree seems to leaning toward playing for pay sooner than that. It would require some sponsor’s exemptions to do that, and here is a chance to jump up and down on a major leaderboard and get a little attention. “I know if I play well at the Masters, it just jump-starts my career even more than winning the U.S. Am,” he said.

Even with the scene around Woods neutralized this year by the lack of fans, Ogletree will face a gracious plenty number of other tests this week. It’s still the Masters. There are still distractions around every shrub and pine.

So, Ogletree braces himself, because that tee time with Tiger that seemed once so far away is now imminent.

“It’s hard to not wander and let your mind think of all the history around this place and all the shots you’ve seen on TV,” he said.

“But I’ve got to just get into shot by shot and play a golf tournament on Thursday.”

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