AUGUSTA, Ga. – Sammy Schmitz brought "Minnesota Nice" to Augusta National.
He brought Minnesota crowds, too.
Schmitz rebounded from his difficult back nine on Thursday with a 75 on Friday at the Masters, missing the cut like every Mid-Am champion before him but displaying his appreciation for the event and his entourage from dawn to nearly dusk.
The amateur from Farmington, Minn., arrived early in the morning, was in the first group off the tee, then stayed for lunch and spectating. "They're going to have to peel me out of here on Sunday night," he said with a broad smile. "I'm going to be the last one on the property."
Unlike most of the other players at the Masters, Schmitz has to work on Monday morning, and unlike all of the other players he walked outside the ropes drinking a beer after his round.
He also ran out of his way twice to retrieve hats that had blown onto the course, slapped every hand offered him, chatted with his followers during the round and praised every aspect of his experience.
Schmitz attended the amateurs' dinner on Monday night, heard Jim Nantz's voice profiling his career, then trumped all of his previous highlights.
"Being around the best players in the world, best atmosphere in the world, on one of the hardest golf courses I've ever played, it's just so fun to be a part of it," he said. "Everybody was so interested in how I was playing and just the story. I had a lot of support out here. It was a lot of fun playing with that support. I think that's what I'll remember and cherish the most."
How will he handle playing amateur golf tournaments with smatterings of fans? "I have no idea how I'll go back," he said, laughing.
His coach, PGA Head Professional Joe Greupner of Braemar Golf Club in Edina, Minn., called him on Thursday night to check on his frame of mind and plan the Thursday round, then Rich Beem grabbed the phone.
Beem, who won the 2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National and is a member of the club, is staying with a large group of Minnesotans in Augusta. "He gave me some words of encouragement," Schmitz said. "He's a good guy."
On Thursday, Schmitz played the back-nine par 5s in 3 over, even though he was hitting into the green with a wedge on his third shot both times. Friday, Schmitz played the two holes in 1 under after hitting wedges safely toward the middle of the greens.
"He picked up four shots with the wedges on two holes," Greupner said. "He really could have shot a 76 yesterday and if he had, who knows, maybe he has a chance to make the cut.
"That would have been a wonderful story, but even just being here with him has been golf heaven. From the way I was treated here to the way Sam played, this was very special. He should be very proud. He showed he can play Augusta National, that he can handle the course, can handle the pressure, that he can play in this environment."
Schmitz's 75 Friday was as good or better than the rounds of major winners Mike Weir, Graeme McDowell, Charl Schwartzel, Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.
After a difficult lag putt on No. 9, Jordan Spieth turned, smiled and sighed. After hitting a long drive into the wind on 18, he started thinking about ideal endings to his two days at the Masters.
"We thought it would have been destiny if I holed out from the fairway," Schmitz said. "That's the word I kept using walking down the fairway. After I pulled it left, 'destiny' was chipping in."
Instead he chipped it close, tapped in, and started planning his return.
As a player? "I'm talking about getting tickets," he said. "I've met so many people in town, made so many friends. I never dreamed I'd have so many people across the country just opening up their door to me, and wanting to meet me. I'll remember that forever."
This article was written by Jim Souhan from Star Tribune and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.