About one minute after Randal Lewis won the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship in September, his friends starting planning their trip to Augusta.
“We have about 35 people out here from Gratiot County,” said Dale Nester, while watching his friend putt on Augusta National Golf Club’s 17th green on Thursday, alongside two-time Masters Tournament winner Jose Maria Olazabal.
Nester is Lewis’ dentist and longtime friend from Alma, Mich., a town of a little more than 9,000 smack in the center of the Great Lakes state. He was following Lewis with a group that included the 54-year-old golfer’s extended family, numerous friends and Steve Sharrad, Lewis’ next-door neighbor for more than 20 years.
“Randy has always shared his golf tips with Dale and me,” said Sharrad, who still gets a game in with his friend whenever he can.
Lewis, who works as a financial planner in Alma, said the support from his friends and everyone else has really lifted his spirits. It seems like everyone back home is as excited as he has been for the past six months.
“It’s pretty cool when you come from a small town,” said Lewis. “Everybody pulls for each other.”
Lewis became the oldest amateur to qualify for the Masters by winning the Mid-Am, but around Michigan, people who know golf are very familiar with his name, Nester said.
Lewis was named Golf Association of Michigan Player of the Decade for the 1990s and was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2009.
“If you know our Michigan summers, they aren’t too long. That makes it even more amazing,” said his 19-year-old son Nicklaus, named after the six-time green jacket winner. “If I could play like him, I’d be out here, too.”
Although he made a few shots Thursday, Lewis said the first round wasn’t what he had hoped for after finishing 9-over.
“It is a long golf course, but I putted really well,” he said. “I just wish I had given myself a few more chances to make some birdies.”
Lewis said no matter what final score he posts, the experience is something he has always wished for and will always remember.
“I told the people at the pro shop that I’m buying enough Masters gear to last 10 years,” he said, adding that he wishes he could savor the moment longer before returning to work.
“Geez, I wish things would slow down,” he said. “It’s all going too fast.”