STUART Wilson’s one regret from his Masters appearance was that he didn’t give himself enough good memories.
“All psychologically strong sports people are able to forget and disregard their poor performances and, as such, I can only remember about three shots,” he recalled, with a smile, of signing for a brace of 82s when missing the cut in 2005.
It wasn’t the performance he was hoping for after earning his trip up Magnolia Lane as the Amateur champion, having claimed that coveted crown at St Andrews the previous year. A decade on, though, it tells you a lot about Wilson as a person that he looks back on that experience and takes the most enjoyment from the thrill it gave others and not necessarily himself.
“The best thing for me to come out of the week was that another 18 friends and family can now all say they have been to the Masters when they might have never had the chance if I had not been fortunate enough to receive an invitation,” said the man who has since hung up his clubs, at least when it comes to competing on a national stage, and is now the secretary of Forfar Golf Club.
Wilson felt “quite comfortable” when the tournament itself came around. He’d paid a visit in February to do the “tourist bit”, including the drive up Magnolia Lane and soaking up the history in the Champions’ locker-room and the clubhouse. “It does feel different, though, going from being the only person on the course in February to having crowds and the infrastructure in place,” he said of what had perhaps unsettled him when the gun went off.
A decade on, another Scot, Blairgowrie’s Bradley Neil, finds himself in the line-up for the season’s opening major as the Amateur champion, having become – at Royal Portrush last June – the first Scot to win that prize since Wilson. Having watched him come through the Scottish Golf Union ranks, Wilson knew Neil had that potential. He was also impressed by how Neil, the sole Scot in the team, handled playing at his home club in last year’s Junior Ryder Cup, for which Wilson was the European captain.
“I have known Bradley and his family for a lot of years now and he has always been a bit of a stand-out talent,” he said of the 19-year-old. “It was a real thrill for me to see him win the Amateur Championship and, as a result, make the Junior Ryder Cup team. He carries himself with confidence and loves to work on his short game.
“There was a lot of attention piled on Bradley at the Junior Ryder Cup, with him being the Amateur champion and the local hero, and he dealt with that really well – these things can often work against you rather than being an advantage. We had a great Junior Ryder Cup team and, though the Americans came over and were better than us, Bradley was just one of many great talents on display that week with the likes of Renato Paratore, Sam Burns, Linnea Strom and Hannah O’Sullivan.
“He has a lot of competition out there and some of these players have gone on to bigger and better things already. I think Bradley has the determination, desire and talent to step up through the levels. He is far from the finished article, but I am sure with the correct attitude from him and his support group he will continue to improve.”
Peter McEvoy remains the only British amateur to make the Masters cut way back in 1978, but no player from these shores has won the Silver Cup, presented to the low amateur who makes the cut.
“I wouldn’t term it as a pressure packed-event for Bradley,” said Wilson in reply to being asked what his fellow Scot should be hoping to achieve this week. “This is something that he should try to enjoy and it would be a great achievement just to make the cut.
“To get the most out of his performance, it is all about doing the preparation and I am sure Bradley will have done that. Then all he has to do is trust his game, try his best on every shot and have fun. They love the amateur golfers at Augusta and, if you keep smiling and be courteous, the officials and crowd will make you feel at home and get right behind you. Nothing would please the Augusta members more than an amateur doing well, or even winning it, given the Bobby Jones history.”
Ironically, it was prior to when it really mattered that Wilson pleased those members and patrons by coming up with one of the few shots he can remember from 2005. “My best shot all week was in practice when the crowd chant “skip it” at 16 and expect you to skim it over the pond on to the green,” he recalled. “I got that to about three feet.”