Soak up this historic Masters (Men’s Golf)

Zach Silka

AUGUSTA, Ga. –

Tomorrow is a historic day for the Northwestern men’s golf program.

Actually, tomorrow is a historic day for this university as a whole.

When senior Dillon Dougherty tees off in the first round at Augusta National on Thursday at 8:55 a.m., he will become the first amateur in school history to participate in the Masters Tournament, otherwise known as the most recognized event in the sport of golf.

Amen Corner. Butler Cabin. The Green Jacket ceremony. Hogan Bridge over Rae’s Creek. The Champions Dinner.

Understanding all of that tradition, prestige and history, you can now fully comprehend why Dougherty has been smiling for seven-straight months, and why it’s about the “experience” this weekend more than anything else.

That experience started a few days early for Dougherty this week, when he played practice rounds with former Masters winners Tom Watson on Sunday and Vijay Singh on Tuesday.

“It was pretty cool, to say the least,” Dougherty’s father and caddie, Dan, said.

The experience of Dougherty at the Masters also carries over to every NU alum, student and faculty and staff member. Chicago’s WBBM-Channel 2 should turn in record ratings this weekend if Dougherty makes the cut.

Even if you’re not a golf fan, at least tune in to watch a snippet of Dougherty’s second round Friday afternoon, since his final few holes will likely be televised live on USA at 4 p.m. You can also check out NU alumnus Luke Donald, the world’s 10th best player, duel it out for his first major championship.

“I think it’s great for Northwestern,” Dougherty said. “It’s publicity. It’s someone excelling in golf, along with Luke.”

Dougherty qualified for the Masters with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Amateur in August and also secured an invitation to this summer’s U.S. Open at Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

The Masters is the tournament that matters most, though, and one Dougherty has been dreaming about since he began playing the sport at age 4. That’s why Dougherty is shooting to make the cut and be low amateur of the tournament so that he can participate in the Green Jacket ceremony Sunday night.

But for today, rubbing elbows with the sport’s elite during the Master’s Par-3 Contest, in which he will be paired with Donald, and final practice round is good enough.

“I’m hoping to get some of the nerves out early on before Thursday, ” Dougherty said.

Still, between Dillon and Dan Dougherty, Dillon has been the calm, relaxed one this week.

Dan will be on the bag for the second time in a high-pressure environment Thursday, after caddying for Dougherty at the U.S. Amateur. Dillon opted against utilizing one of the course’s veteran caddies in order to keep it as a family affair. One of his twin 16-year-old brothers will tote his clubs during the Par-3 Contest.

“My dad is pumped,” Dougherty said. “He’s a little stressed out right now trying to get everything ready, but when I told him I wanted him to caddie, he got pretty excited. He’s going to enjoy it just as much as I will.”

While almost everything about Augusta National and the Masters is great, one tradition matters most to Dougherty: inviting amateurs to compete.

Dating back to the days of tournament co-founder Bobby Jones in 1934, the Masters has a long history of amateurs playing in its tournament. Along with Dougherty, the other amateurs in the field this year are Kevin Marsh, Brian McElhinney, Edoardo Molinari and Clay Ogden.

The only other tournament that comes close to the Masters’ tradition is The Open Championship, the world’s oldest tournament that began in 1860 and is played annually in the United Kingdom.

But stateside, and even internationally, the Masters is noted as the marquee event that all golf enthusiasts and casual fans alike look forward to every year. Despite the recent controversy surrounding the tournament and its director, Hootie Johnson, anyone that has ever played golf would die to play a round at the hallowed grounds of Augusta National.

And Dillon Dougherty, a Northwestern student just like anyone else, is competing here this week.

“I’ve been excited for it for seven months,” Dougherty said. “Now it’s finally here. I’m just ready for it to happen.”

Get excited, and let the memories begin.

Sports editor Zach Silka is a Medill junior. He can be reached at [email protected]