ST. PAUL, Minn. – Sammy Schmitz, the four-time St. John's-Collegeville All-America golfer who in October earned entry to the 2016 Masters by winning the U.S. Mid-Amateur, got his first taste of Augusta National a couple of weeks ago.
"First time ever on the property," said Schmitz, 35, of Farmington. "It was amazing, surreal, just to be on the course. I've seen it a million times on television. I can't wait to get back."
As a qualifier, Schmitz will make several trips to Augusta National to prepare for the first of golf's four majors, in April, which Jordan Spieth won this year. For his inaugural visit the other day, Schmitz brought his father, Steve, 62.
"He doesn't golf," Schmitz said. "He was able to be on the course with me. They (Augusta National) are very accommodating – they gave us a tour of the entire facility."
Sammy Schmitz played 24 holes at the famed course, including the pristine par-3 layout. He used a caddie from Augusta National, which was required. For next spring's tournament, though, he'll have friend John Hanner carry his bag. Hanner, himself an accomplished golfer, was Schmitz's caddie when he won the Mid-Amateur in October at St. John's Island in Vero Beach, Fla.
Schmitz, a new member at Southview Country Club in West St. Paul, said he was "pretty happy" with how he hit the ball at Augusta National despite chilly weather that caused a frost delay. The cold also limited the length of his drives.
"(The course) was playing nothing like it will in the tournament," Schmitz said.
"We hit a ton of putts. The greens are probably the most difficult I've ever played – they're absolutely crazy. It's going to be tough on those greens."
Schmitz's caddie helped a lot, reading Augusta National's slick, wavy greens.
"A ton – he knows the greens like the back of his hand," Schmitz said. "He told me where he thought the pins were going to be (for the tournament). We hit 10, 15 putts on every green, putts that broke 20 feet, 30 feet that were straight down the hill. We did all kinds of fun stuff on the greens. It was a blast."
Schmitz works in the health care industry, selling housekeeping laundry and dining services for long-term nursing facilities in Minnesota and Iowa. Through a GoFundMe account he and wife Natalie set up, Schmitz raised $25,000 toward expenses for his Masters experience.
"It was crazy – we had no expectations going into it," Schmitz said. "There were so many people that were asking us, 'How can I help?' and we did it through that. It was very humbling how many people helped out."
Schmitz is keenly aware his opportunity to compete in the Masters could be once in a lifetime.
"I'm very excited to take it all in with my friends and family and go down there and see what it's like to play with the best golfers in the world," he said. "Even if I get to do it only once, it's more than I ever thought I was going to be able to do."
Schmitz's objective for playing in the Masters?
"Two words: 'Have fun,' " he said. "That's all I care about right now. Being from Minnesota, we normally take the winters off, and when you come into the spring, you're game is awful. I want to go down there feeling like I have my good game."
Schmitz has a great appreciation for his opportunity to compete at Augusta National.
"But I have no expectations as far as results go," he said. "I just want to play good golf, and the main thing is I just want to have fun. I'm going to take it in, look around and enjoy every second of seeing what it's like to be a professional golfer.
"Most people who play sports don't get to feel what it's like to be a professional athlete, whether it's playing (Minnesota Wild) at Xcel Center in front of all those people or playing (Twins) at Target Field, or whatever the case is, and I get to do that. I get to be in the ropes, per se. I'm extremely excited."
Schmitz, a plus-3 handicapper, has no aspirations about turning professional.
"I have a career; I have kids. I'm not good enough," he said. "A plus-3 – 3 under par – isn't good enough. There's a ton of talent out there in the world, and I'm not even close to what there is in golf talent. I'm having fun being an amateur. I love the camaraderie and the friendships. I was a pro for a year (2004 on mini tours), and I didn't like it. I wasn't good enough, and I'm still not."
This article was written by Charley Walters from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.