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Amateur from Iowa wants to follow Johnson's lead

Sunday, April 05, 2009
By David Westin
Staff Writer

Zach Johnson won't be the only Iowan playing at Augusta National Golf Club this year. The other Hawkeye State native in the 73rd Masters Tournament is one of Johnson's biggest fans.

The 2007 Masters champion, who hails from Cedar Rapids, will be joined by wide-eyed amateur Jack Newman, who qualified by virtue of his 2008 U.S. Amateur Public Links win.

Newman, a 21-year-old junior at Michigan State University, is from Des Moines. He used Johnson as a role model when he was growing up, following him from his years on the Hooters and Nationwide tours (2001-03) before making it on the PGA Tour.

"It just shows you hard work and dedication can pay off in the end," Newman said.

Newman has never met Johnson, though he was on a joint radio interview from different locations with him once.

"It would be awesome to play a practice round with him," said Newman, who plans to look into the possibility.

The other amateurs in this year's field are U.S. Amateur champion Danny Lee, U.S. Amateur runner-up Drew Kittleson, British Amateur champion Reinier Saxton and U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Steve Wilson.

Newman won the Public Links title at Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo., beating John Chin 5-and-3 in the 36-hole final.

Everyone in that tournament knows the winner earns a one-time invitation to the Masters.

"It had crossed my mind early in the day of the championship match," Newman said. "Then I got lost in the pace of the game."

Near the end, when victory was imminent, a fan let Newman know where the win would take him.

"I hit a shot, and somebody yelled, 'You're going to the Masters!' It kind of sunk in then. When I won, a pure enjoyment came over me."

There was one matter to take care of: Who would be Newman's caddie at Augusta National? It came down to a choice between his father, Bob, and his older brother Andy, who caddied for him at the public links.

"Both my dad and Andy know my game, and I told my dad he could have first dibs," Newman said. "He said 'Thanks, but no thanks,' that he wanted me to play my best, so Andy will be on the bag. I trust his knowledge, and my dad's, more than anybody else in my family."

Jack has a head start on taking a crash course called Augusta National 101. By the first round of the Masters, Newman will have played the course more than 20 times, counting the tournament practice rounds.

Newman made four three-day trips to Augusta National, starting in late November. He would arrive the night before he would play, then try to get in 36 holes on both days he was at the course. He couldn't believe the contours on the greens.

"Oh man, I told people they've got elephants buried in them," Newman said. "They are (Alister) Mackenzie designs, so you always know there are some tricks in there. Like No. 17, it looks like it's uphill, but it's downhill."

At 7,435 yards, Augusta National is a beast, and Newman admits he's not a power player.

In the Public Links final, Chin consistently outdrove Newman by 30 to 40 yards, yet Newman won the match handily.

"I'm good tee-to-green and a straight hitter," Newman said. "I make sure my misses are on the proper side of the green."

Reach David Westin at (706) 823-3224 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.

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