Even though he is armed with Masters advice from none other than Jordan Spieth, and has the giddying experience in his locker of leading the Open Championship, Scott Gregory is prepared for his eyes to be on stalks when he drives down Magnolia Lane for the first time on Wednesday.
“I can’t believe that in a few days I will be able to say that I’ve played Augusta National,” Gregory says. “When I get on that first tee, I know it is going to feel surreal.”
The 22-year-old from Hampshire has been fantasising about the moment ever since winning the Amateur Championship at Porthcawl last June. Of course, the R&A event is historic in its own right and also guarantees entry into the Open and US Open. Yet, when the glory is secured, each and every amateur winner has only one thing on their minds – Georgia.
“I remember after the final shaking everybody’s hands and then finally walking up to my coach, Simon [Andrews] and saying, ‘Simon, we are going to the Masters’,” Gregory says. Andrews, the swing supremo at Portsmouth Golf Centre, will be joining him amid the azaleas this week and then, when all the patrons arrive next week, Gregory’s parents, brother and girlfriend will also be in attendance.
Gregory is determined to enjoy the perks and will take up the amateur’s privilege of staying in the Crow’s Nest, the private room in the attic of the famous clubhouse. But come game day a week on Thursday, he is determined not to be the startled kid in the sweetshop. And this is where Spieth and Troon will help.
It was at the Ayrshire links where he stunned the sport by grabbing the Open lead on four under. “I looked up after the 10th and there was my name,” Gregory recalls. “And the weird thing was, I felt pretty good. It didn’t go badly for nerves. I was playing with Sandy Lyle and David Duval and we got put on the clock. I’d never been on the clock before and it totally put me off my stride. I didn’t stick to my routine and it all unravelled. Quickly.”
Indeed, Gregory dropped 11 shots on those final eight holes. No matter, he left Scotland having relished the exposure and with the words of a two-time major-winner ringing in his ears. “I met Jordan on the practice green,” he says. “ We just started chatting. He is only a year older than me and he is so friendly that it was like talking to one of my mates. We discussed the Masters, but no I didn’t ask him about the 12th [where, three months earlier, Spieth had lost a four-shot lead], as I didn’t think that would be a good idea.
“Jordan told me that with Augusta it’s all about playing to certain spots on the fairways and how these change depending on where the pins are. He said to do the research on the different pins and I’ve done that. He’s finished second, first and second in his three Masters so far, so he’s not the worst person to have as an adviser is he?”
It is not only Spieth in his corner. The Hampshire connection has meant Justin Rose coming on side. The 2013 US Open champion invited Gregory to play a practice round at Troon and through his manager, Paul McDonnell, has kept in touch. It is Rose who has fixed up Gregory with the local caddie who he, himself, uses, there during tournament weeks and who Rose thinks could be crucial to his prodigy’s progression. “Justin says you need all the guidance you can get around Augusta and I’m very grateful to him,” Gregory said.
The cut is obviously the target and Nigel Edwards, the performance director of England Golf, believes Gregory is well capable. “Scott reminds me of Luke Donald,” Edwards says. “He has a terrific short game and an impressive work ethic.”
Certainly it has not come on a silver platter. A few days after the Open, Gregory was back working behind the counter at the driving range. “It costs a lot being a full-time amateur on the circuit, and if you’ve got wealthy parents then it’s not a problem,” Gregory says. “But my parents aren’t that wealthy. That’s just the way it’s had to be.”
If it all goes to plan then money will not be an issue for much longer, as he will turn professional after the Walker Cup in September. Before that is the Masters, and before that is the Georgia Cup on Tuesday. It has become a tradition for the amateur champion to play the US Amateur champion at the Golf Club of Georgia in Atlanta the week before Augusta and in the Australian Curtis Luck, Gregory has an imposing opponent.
“It would be great to have a confidence-booster going into the Masters,” he says. As if Gregory is not prepared enough for his date in dreamland.