It’s easy to watch a succession of peers reach a destination and wonder, “When is it my turn?”
Chris Kirk, Russell Henley, Harris English, Brian Harman and Brendon Todd each had their breakthrough wins and earned places in the Masters Tournament. Hudson Swafford had played with all of them in annual trips the Georgia golf team made to Augusta National, but he kept waiting to join them in the ranks of PGA Tour winners.
“It’s guys I kind of grew up playing junior golf with and guys I played in college every day with – to see those guys do it it’s definitely motivating and reassuring that you can do it,” Swafford said. “You definitely put a lot of pressure on yourself seeing all your peers win and close buddies, but it’s nice when it happens.”
It finally happened for Swafford in January at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the California desert. He birdied three consecutive holes late in the round to notch his first win in his four seasons on the PGA Tour.
“Hud acts like nothing bothers him, but I know watching all of his buddies win definitely bothered him,” said Harman, who finished third that week.
Said Swafford: “If (not winning) doesn’t bother you, that all your friends have won around you, then you probably need to look for another job. It wasn’t holding me back or anything, but it creates a little fire. Playing with these guys day in, day out, it motivates you.”
The Georgia golf fraternity that plays with Swafford knew it was only a matter of time. His ball-striking always seemed on another level, it was only a matter of making enough putts.
“Everybody says, ‘You should have already won a major; you should have already won this,’” Swafford said. “They don’t give them away out here. If they did, everybody would be Tiger Woods. I knew I was going to win out here and definitely had confidence, I just didn’t know when.”
Swafford is one of the most likable players on tour, a Florida Panhandle guy who grew up so fast he drove himself the few blocks to the golf course when he was 12 years old until some folks at the club started complaining.
Like any golfer who grew up in the Southeast and played in college at Georgia, the Masters has always been the ultimate goal.
“I played there every year in college and growing up in the South that’s the best thing that a kid can do,” he said. “It’s my Super Bowl, but at the end of the day it’s another golf tournament and you can’t play it up too big or it’s going to bite you.”
Playing in college, Swafford always called Augusta National day the “fastest day of the year.” He hopes to allow things to slow down a little for the Masters. He planned to practice the weekend before playing the Houston Open and pace himself when tournament week arrives.
He wants to play practice rounds with fellow Bulldog Kevin Kisner and 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples.
“Try not to play the Masters before it gets there, that’s the biggest thing,” he said.
Swafford had made 19 consecutive cuts from the Players Championship through his victory in January, but missed three in a row after that. When it comes to Augusta, he has a pretty strong inside source for course knowledge. Swafford’s college roommate at Georgia was Jefferson Knox, whose father has been the designated marker in the Masters since 2003.
“I’d like to log in some rounds with him,” he said of Jeff Knox.
Swafford believes he’s familiar enough with Augusta to be as ready as he can be for his turn that’s finally arrived.
“The shock of just showing up on the first tee, I’ve been there and done that,” he said. “You’re going to get it and it’s a good feeling now. The first time I went, when you’re on that tee you’re a little unsettled. I’ll have butterflies the first round but it’ll be good.”