After waiting nearly eight months, Denton’s Kelly Kraft gets to unwrap his Christmas presents in the first week of April, as the 2011 U.S. Amateur Champion gets his chance to play in the Masters tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.
Kraft, a recent SMU graduate, knew he was going to play in the Masters since winning the U.S. Amateur at Erin Hills in Wisconsin last August. But it hasn’t made the time pass any quicker until he tees it up Thursday, playing with defending champion Charl Schwartzel.
“I’m starting to hit the ball a lot better and I’m very excited to finally get a chance to play there,” Kraft said.
He is the first Texas amateur to play in The Masters since former Oklahoma State standout Trip Kuehne in 2008. Kraft is following a Lone Star linage that includes amateurs (now professionals) Ben Crenshaw and Justin Leonard.
“There have been a lot of good players from Texas who have played in The Masters. I’m just glad I’m going to be in that group,” Kraft said.
Once qualified for The Masters, players are allowed unlimited practice rounds there, with Kraft already taking three different scouting trips and a playing half a dozen rounds.
“I’ve mainly played by myself, but it was neat soaking up the history at the course,” he said. “The course was probably a little softer than it will be for the tournament and it was pretty cold, but still a lot of fun.
“I still remember when I played the par-3 12th for the first time and then I stood where Tiger chipped in on No. 16. An impossible shot.”
Since he was in practice mode during his many pre-tournament trips, Kraft would hit several balls on many of the holes and not keep an official score.
“I still remember the first time I birdied No. 12 and eagled No. 15,” he said. “To be where all the historic action took place, it’s very exciting.”
With plenty of time to plan for his magical week, Kraft said he constantly has been working on the most important details, caddies, tickets and souvenirs.
Despite the many offers he had, from close friends and total strangers, his caddie for the week will be Boston Brittain, whom he grew up playing golf with in Denton and who caddied for him at his U.S. Amateur win last summer at Erin Hills.
Kraft’s fiancée, Tia Gannon, will don the white jumpsuit and perform the caddie duties for the Wednesday par-3 event.
“Hopefully, that’s a few brownie points,” Kraft said.
His limited Masters badges went to his parents, his sister, Gannon and her mother and some close family friends.
“They are all staying close together in Augusta, so it will be a special time,” he said.
Kraft will take up the traditional accommodations for amateurs at the Crow’s Nest on the top level of the Augusta National clubhouse.
“It’s not very big, not more than a dorm room, but it will be fun,” he said. “I talked to Hunter Mahan and he told me what to expect.
“Lots of food and maybe sneaking around the club at night. Don’t worry, I won’t get cheated on food.”
He’s already filled several gift lists from family and friends for Masters souvenirs and gifts.
“I’ve already picked up several hats and a few shirts, but I’m sure there will be more,” Kraft added.
Kraft still is working on his early-week practice rounds schedule, hopefully with someone who has played the course plenty of times or one of his PGA Tour idols.
“It would be great to have a chance to get Rory McIlroy or maybe Fred Couples, somebody who has been there before,” he said.
He’s also been working on a set of Masters goals, big and small.
“My small goal would be to make the cut and play all four days,” Kraft said about something Tiger Woods never accomplished as an amateur. “I’m hitting the ball well and putting good, why not be near the top of The Masters leaderboard? That would be a big goal.”
In season full of golf highlights, Kraft’s week at Augusta promises to be at the top in what he hopes will be a stellar golf career. He will turn pro the day after The Masters ends.
“There have been a lot of good players from Texas to play in The Masters. I just hope I’m playing well and can be added to that list.”
Katy’s David Pocknall fired a final-round, 7-under-par 65 in San Antonio on March 25 to win his third South Mid-Amateur. He rallied from four shots back on the final day at Sonterra’s North course to beat Mike Booker, of The Woodlands, by six strokes.
Pocknall’s 65 was his career competitive low. He had seven birdies and no bogeys to finish with a three-day total of 1-over 217.
At the North Mid-Amateur the same day, recent Texas move-in Mike Calef, of McKinney, continued to make himself at home with a four-stroke win at Old American Golf Club.
The Massachusetts native won the Mass Mid-Am last fall before moving here because of his job, and followed up with his first Lone Star win with a 72-210 total. Justin’s Brandon Scott had the low round of the final day for a 70-214 and second place.
The winners qualify for the 2012 TGA State Amateur this summer in Dallas.