AUGUSTA, Ga. - Everyone who plays in the Masters is thankful for the opportunity, but chances are that nobody appreciates it more this year than Harrison Frazar.
The 40-year-old from Dallas, whose rookie season on the PGA Tour came in 1998, ended 13 years of frustration when he won in his 355th tour start, at last year’s St. Jude Classic. It came weeks after a heartfelt conversation he had with his wife, Allison, about his future as a touring pro, and with the clock ticking: Frazar, who had been hindered by hip and back injuries, was down to his final few starts while playing on a medical exemption.
Monday’s practice round, then, and Thursday’s start to the Masters, has been a long time coming. Frazar was enjoying every second of it.
“It’s a bucket list, it’s something that as a golfer you dream about. Not just wanting to be here, but as a validation of your accomplishments in golf,’’ Frazar said. “You can’t Monday-qualify for this, they don’t have 24 special exemptions to give out. You have to earn your way in, and everybody knows that.’’
One week in Memphis got him in. Looking back, it’s clear that Frazar was at a crossroads, and came close to giving up his dream. Funny how things work.
“I think it was the realization that I had fallen so far. I had about three weeks off, I wasn’t going to play, my back was bothering me, so I took some time off, and I kind of looked up, and when I felt like it was the end of the world, everybody else’s life was still going on,’’ Frazar said. “I realized that, you know what, my kids still love me, my wife still loves me, she’s still here. I feel like everything is completely falling apart, but it’s really not.’’
Back to back
It’s rare that an amateur qualifies for two consecutive Masters, but back for his second time is Hideki Matsuyama, who has won the last two Asian Amateur championships. He was the only amateur to make the cut last year, finishing in a tie for 27th at 1-under-par 287.
“It’s kind of unbelievable, but I’m so glad to be back here again,’’ said Matsuyama, who played practice rounds Sunday and Monday with fellow Japanese player Ryo Ishikawa. “When I was playing the Asian Amateur, especially, I had a strong feeling of wanting to come back here. From the first day of the Asian Amateur, I was very focused.’’
Matsuyama is one of six amateurs in the field, joining US Amateur champion Kelly Kraft, US Amateur runner-up Patrick Cantlay, British Amateur champion Bryden Macpherson, US Public Links winner Corbin Mills, and Randal Lewis, who became the oldest winner in US Mid-Amateur history and will make his Masters debut at 54.
Els motivated to return
Part of the pre-Masters focus was on Ernie Els, who had played every year at Augusta National since making his debut in 1994. His streak was snapped when he failed to qualify this year, finishing outside the top 50 in the world rankings and failing to win a PGA Tour event since the conclusion of last year’s Masters.
In a blog posted on www.pgatour.com, Els writes that it won’t be easy watching from a distance this week, and vows to be among next year’s invitees.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed to not be in this year’s Masters. It’ll be quite a weird feeling not being there,’’ Els wrote. “Of course I’ll miss it, but I can’t blame the Masters committee for not inviting me. It is an invitational event and they have their reasons to invite somebody or not.’’
Els has come close in the Masters, finishing second in 2000 and 2004. And while one of golf’s most popular players won’t be here this year, he’s confident - and motivated - to start another streak in 2013.
“It’s a little bit sad that an 18-year streak has come to an end, but I have only myself to blame,’’ Els wrote. “I’ll be back there next year.’’
Kaymer skipped to it
Masters tradition dictates that players attempt to skip golf balls across the pond fronting the 16th green during practice rounds, drawing groans for failed attempts and boisterous applause for those successfully reaching dry land.
The roar that came from the 16th green Monday morning indicated that something special had happened. Martin Kaymer skipped his ball across the water and into the hole, one of the most unusual and unsuspecting aces you’ll ever come across.
Kaymer, who was ranked No. 1 in the world during last year’s Masters, has not made the cut in four previous appearances.Michael Whitmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.