Jeff Knox gets call from Augusta National bullpen

When Jeff Knox’s phone rang at 6:30 p.m. Friday, he knew the call was from Au­gusta National Golf Club headquarters.

“That’s about when they call, letting me know,” he said.

The Augusta National member and Augusta resident was told his presence would be required as a noncompeting marker for Saturday’s third round.

Knox, who holds the course record from the members’ tees with 11-under-par 61 in a nontournament round in 2003, has been the club’s marker in the Masters since 2002. That year, while playing with Craig Stadler, Knox holed out a wedge shot for eagle on the par-5 eighth, which is the highlight of his career as a marker, he said.

Augusta National uses a marker when there is an odd number of players for the weekend rounds (there were 63 this year). A marker, who plays from the same tees as the player, serves three purposes: He keeps the participant’s scorecard, gives him someone to play with and helps with the pace of play.

“The main thing is try to stay out of the competitor’s way and make sure I keep his score correct,” Knox said.

On Saturday, Knox played with U.S. Amateur champion Kelly Kraft in the day’s first pairing.

Kraft, who plays for South­ern Methodist University and will turn pro after Sunday’s final round, made double bogey on the 18th hole for 77. Knox didn’t have an official score, but he said he shot 75 – if you count the tap-in bogey putt he picked up without holing out on No. 7.

This was Knox’s ninth round as a marker, but the first he played with a fellow amateur. It was also the first time he spoke to the media afterward.

“It’s fun to be out here,” said Knox, 49, a two-time Georgia Mid-Ama­teur champion and the executive director of the Knox Foun­dation in Augusta. “I guess it’s the next best thing to playing in the tournament by qualifying. Of course, that is my ultimate goal to do that. I’m running out of time to do that.”

How nervous is Knox playing in front of the gallery lining every hole?

“I’ve played in a good bit of competition, of course, but nothing like this,” he said. “The first couple of holes is a little nerve-racking. The first shot on No. 1, definitely. You just want to elevate the ball, that’s my goal. Get it off the tee.”

The nerves didn’t show Sat­ur­day, at least not early. The two birdies in the round came in the first five holes (Nos. 2 and 5, where he hit a spectacular blind second shot to within three feet of the pin). He had bogeys on Nos. 1, 7, 12, 17 and 18.

“We had a good day,” Knox said. “We didn’t finish very
good, so we’re both disappointed. I’m especially disappointed with his finish there.”
This was one of the few times Knox already knew his partner. He had met Kraft in September when Kraft played in the Walker Cup in Aber­deen, Scotland. They played a practice round at Au­gus­ta National on March 30.

“It was nice to get reunited with him,” Knox said.

Kraft, who opened with rounds of 74-75 to make the cut on the number, knew he’d be with Knox when he saw the pairings Friday evening showing him with a marker.

“Kelly texted me last night saying, ‘Looking forward to playing with you,’ ” Knox said.

Kraft, playing in the third-to-last group Friday, had to make a six-foot bogey putt on the 18th hole to make the cut. Had he missed the putt, there would have been an even number of players for the weekend – leaving Knox out, too.

“He got us both in,” Knox said. “I thanked him for that.”

Knox’s services as a marker won’t be needed for the final round. Gary Woodland withdrew after Saturday’s round because of injury, leaving the Masters field with an even number of players.

Whenever Knox serves as a marker, he is assured of having a respectable gallery following him.

“Lot of family and friends out here, and that makes it fun,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of friends working out here, and I see them on certain holes. They’re not following me, but they’re encouraging me along the way.”