Wilson Gives Caddie Another Masters Moment With Mid-Amateur Victory
By David Shefter, USGA
River Hills, Wis. – Gary Martin has a favorite Masters moment. The year was 1986 when Jack Nicklaus, at age 46, had a final round for the ages to claim his 18th and final major.
Martin was several hundred miles to the west in Hattiesburg, Miss., competing in what was then called the Deposit Guaranty Golf Classic, a PGA Tour event for players not invited to the Masters. Martin enjoyed his finest day as a pro, tying for ninth ($5,000), and after signing for a 65, he caught glimpses of the finish at Augusta National.
“That was my shining moment,” said the 46-year-old southern Mississippi native.
Perhaps, until next April when Martin’s good friend and business partner, Steve Wilson, is standing on the first tee being announced, “Fore please … now driving, Steve Wilson.”
Wilson, a 38-year-old reinstated amateur from Ocean Springs, Miss., gave Martin, his caddie, quite the thrill at Milwaukee Country Club on Thursday, winning the 2008 U.S. Mid-Amateur with a 5-and-4 decision over 30-year-old Todd Mitchell in the 36-hole championship match.
The big prize, aside from securing the beautiful Robert T. Jones Memorial Trophy for one year, is a likely invitation to the 2009 Masters, where Wilson said Martin will definitely be on his bag.
“My caddie kept making great read after great read,” said Wilson, who had 14 one-putt greens in the final. “I don’t even look at the line. He reads it and I get over it.
“I liken it to a guy who is real good at billiards just because he can see the angles. I can’t. He can. I don’t think I’d have won without him.”
Martin didn’t arrive in Wisconsin until after the official practice rounds, so his learning curve was more like on-the-job training. Wilson played well the first two days of stroke play at Milwaukee C.C. and Brown Deer Park to earn the No. 7 seed at 1-over 141.
But the first two matches were a study in the vagaries of the format. He was the equivalent of 10 over par (with match-play concessions), including a come-from-behind, 20-hole win over ex-PGA Tour player Michael Muehr. Over his last four matches, a total of 84 holes, he was just two over par.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” said Martin. “I told my wife I would come for three or four days and hopefully that he would make the cut. He had not been playing that well coming into this week. We found the putter, which is obvious. His confidence grew every day.”
Like Wilson, Martin was a solid golfer in his heyday. He won a Mississippi State Amateur and tried PGA Tour Qualifying School five times. In 1986, he earned conditional status on the PGA Tour, which translated into a lot of Monday qualifiers, playing five events. The top-10 finish in Hattiesburg landed him spots at events in Tallahassee and Pensacola, two Florida locales where the Tour no longer stops. Later in the 1990s, he tried his hand on the Hooters Tour, but he couldn’t compete against the younger players.
Physical ailments eventually forced Martin to give up the pro game and he applied to get amateur status back, which he received from the USGA in 2003. For the past five years he’s been Wilson’s business partner in two Mississippi Gulf Coast gas stations/convenience stores. And this week, he was part psychologist, part green reader, all while pushing a club pull cart.
“I have a feeling I will not be able to use the pull cart [at the Maters],” said Martin, who once walked Augusta National with a member when the course was closed.
“I told him he looked girly,” said Wilson, who encouraged Martin not to slug the bag over his shoulder for physical reasons. “He gets mad at me [for saying that]. But why hurt your shoulders if you don’t have to.”
Of course, the Masters invite won’t fully sink in until the letter arrives from Augusta Chairman Billy Payne later this year. But Wilson already knows who he’d like to play a practice round with come April.
His two favorite Masters moments are Fred Couples winning in 1992 and Tiger Woods’ record triumph five years later. Both of those guys are high on his list. During his mini-tour days, he befriended Floridians Boo Weekley, Heath Slocum and Bubba Watson, all of whom are on the PGA Tour and competed at the Masters. Wilson played pro golf for 10 years – mostly mini-tours – until he decided to settle down with his wife, Shelly, and now-8-year-old son, Gavin. He got his amateur status back in 2005.
“It’s like hitting the lottery for me,” said Wilson, who also gets a 10-year Mid-Amateur exemption, and two-year exemptions to both the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Amateur Public Links. “I never believed I could win anything this big.”
Up until this week, Wilson’s biggest triumphs have come in state events. He won the 2007 Mississippi Amateur and the 2008 Mississippi Mid-Amateur. He qualified for the 2006 U.S. Mid-Amateur (missed cut) and lost a first-round match to Nathan Pistacchio (6 and 4) at last year’s APL. And he represented Mississippi at the 2007 USGA Men’s State Team Championship.
Perhaps southern Mississippians will have a new hero along with future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre. Wilson and Favre were at Southern Mississippi University at the same time and a good friend, Scott Jackson, was Favre’s roommate. Wilson has played golf with Favre a couple of times and at his charity golf outing, where he was paired with Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo this past year.
“I know him well enough where I can say hello,” said Wilson. “I’m good friends with his brother, Scott. I need to call him and at least tell him how many questions I got [this week] about Brett.”
You can bet the guys back home are proud. Or maybe envious.
After all, Wilson and Martin get to create their own Masters moment next April.
David Shefter is a USGA New Media staff writer. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.