Mastering His Game
March 23, 2009
By Larry Watts
As a Michigan State athlete, Jack Newman has plenty of green jackets in his wardrobe. But the only green jacket the Spartan junior will be thinking about when the calendar turns to April is the one presented to the winner of the Masters.
Newman knows he probably won't be fitted for that prestigious jacket this year. But on April 9, he'll be teeing it up with the world's best golfers at Augusta National Golf Club and he could quite possibly be getting a taste of his future on the PGA Tour.
"It's an exciting opportunity, but I am trying to focus on the now," he says. "When you have what seems like a thousand things coming at you at one time, you have to try and stay on top of everything by taking one thing at a time.
"I have to think about academics, my own golf game at Michigan State and talk about the Masters. I got back from a tournament at 8:30 the other night and had a midterm at 9 the next morning. With things coming from all directions, if you get ahead of yourself, it doesn't help out your academics or your game."
The Des Moines, Iowa native earned his invite to the Masters by capturing the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship at the Murphy Creek Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. last July. Seeded 20th, he defeated John Chin 5 and 3 in the 36-hole final to become the first Spartan to claim a spot in the Masters.
"I couldn't grasp it," says Newman when asked about his feeling afterward. "All three of my brothers and my sister came up and hugged me on the green. One of them was teary-eyed. I think that's when the magnitude hit me.
"But actually playing in the Masters didn't hit me until I played my first practice round down there last November. I played two more practice rounds in February and another one two weekends ago."
The realization of the event probably didn't set in until he made his latest trip. The scoreboard and bleachers had already been set up by that time.
"It's your own little golf heaven," he says. "I was allowed to bring one guest, who could only walk the course, and I had to use an Augusta caddie (his oldest brother, Andy, will be on the bag for the big event).
"They always sent me off on tee No. 1 and it seemed like I was all by myself out there. It was perfect. But it's going to be a little different standing in that tee box with 25,000 people around you."
Newton says he has sought advice on playing in the Masters. While playing at the recent Pinehurst (N.C.) Intercollegiate, he had a chance to talk to Virginia Tech senior Drew Weaver, who competed in the Masters last year.
"He told me you have to keep things in perspective and know how to prepare yourself," Newton says. "I'm just trying to keep a level head. It's tough because people are always asking you about it during your rounds and I am extremely excited, but at the same time I still have to compete well now and I'm trying to play well in every tournament."
Before heading to Augusta, Newton will get his final tuneup with the Spartans during the Western Intercollegiate in Santa Cruz, Calif. March 29-31. The second team All-Big Ten selection in 2008 is the defending champion in the tournament.
According to Newton, the strongest part of his game is course management.
"I do a good job of knowing where to put the ball in certain spots in order to give myself the best opportunity," he says. "From 100 yards in is probably the weakest part of my game, but my wedge has gotten a lot better. To make it as a pro, you have to be dicey and make it up and down every time. I'm not quite there yet."
Newton, who finished fifth in last year's Big Ten Tournament, already has a pair of Big Ten championship rings to show for Michigan State's back-to-back titles and says not to count the Spartans out this year despite their youth.
"Penn State came back and kicked our butt (by 15 strokes) at Pinehurst and the Big Ten Tournament is going to be on their course," he says. "Illinois and Indiana are both ranked in the top 10. We're playing with one senior, three sophomores and myself, so we're young, but the nice thing about that is we're going to keep getting stronger as the season goes along."
If he could make the cut at Augusta, Newman has already picked out his dream team to round out his foursome for Sunday's walk up the 18th fairway. It would include Tiger Woods, Freddie Couples and Zach Johnson.
"Tiger because he's the man," Newman says. "And what's not to like about Freddie Couples? He doesn't wear a golf glove and doesn't seem to care, although you know he really does. He seems like such a down to earth person in his interviews.
"And Zach because he's from Iowa (Iowa City) and graduated from Drake University (where Jack's brother David played basketball). He won the Masters (in 2007) and I was on a radio show with him right after I won the Public Links title and he was raising a lot of money through a charity tournament to help out the flood victims. I hope to get in touch with him so I can play a practice round with him in Augusta."
Does Newman think he'll see his name on that leaderboard down in Augusta?
"I hope my name gets up there somewhere," he says. "It's a pretty big scoreboard. I think it can hold Newman."