The uncertain future for John Augenstein and top amateur golfers everywhere

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Like many college athletes in their final season of eligibility, John Augenstein is living with the fact that he will to not be able to finish what he started at Vanderbilt.

Making matters worse is the possibility of missing out on the Masters.

Augenstein was playing a practice round at Augusta National last month when he learned that the Masters was being postponed. Only a day earlier, he was informed that the NCAA was canceling the rest of all the spring sports seasons, including golf.

“It was like being hit in the stomach, so upsetting,” said Augenstein, who has remained at Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, since shutting down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. “Not being able to finish the career I started.

“Then when I heard about Augusta, all these other questions start flooding into my head. What does this mean for my professional career? When will [the Masters] be played? It’s such an uncertain future for everybody.”

Augenstein, who is from Owensboro, Kentucky, is one of the top amateurs in the country and earned his spot in the Masters by finishing runner-up to Andy Ogletree at the U.S. Amateur last summer at Pinehurst. Both players earned invitations to the 2020 Masters and 2020 U.S. Open.

The Masters is rescheduled for Nov. 12-15 (and the U.S. Open is now set for Sept. 14-17), but for Augenstein and the other amateurs who qualified — Abel Gallegos, Yuxin Lin, Lukas Michel and James Sugrue — they will need to remain an amateur to compete.

That might have been a dicey decision in normal times, as Augenstein had planned to turn pro this summer with hopes of getting a few sponsor exemptions to PGA Tour events and then attempting to qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour in the fall.

Of course, all of that is on hold anyway. There might not be any PGA Tour events to play in, and certainly the possibility of the schedule being extremely limited is real.

“My heart is hurting for him,” said Vanderbilt golf coach Scott Limbaugh. “Everybody is losing so much, and this scenario is not great that anyone else’s out there. But when you coach people and watch dreams come true, this hits home.

“John’s a four-time all-American and had done the things to play himself into the Masters. And he ended up missing so much there at the end of the spring season. That’s the part you think about the most. Our final home tournament in Nashville. Playing Augusta, and then one more run [in the NCAA tournament.]”

Augenstein, who went 2-1-1 for the United States in a Walker Cup victory last fall, is the second-ranked amateur in the Golfstat rankings and is fourth in the Scratch Player World Amateur Ranking. He was also named a finalist for the Ben Hogan Award given to the top-ranked collegiate golfer for the past year, as he averaged 69.95 strokes in 19 rounds over seven events, including a victory at the Desert Mountain Intercollegiate.

As an amateur who qualified for the Masters, Augenstein was allowed to visit Augusta National five times in advance of what was supposed to be tournament week.

He had been there once with his father, Drew, around Thanksgiving and “it was so cool to drive down Magnolia Lane and experience that with him,” Augenstein said. He also visited on two other occasions prior to his mid-March journey that included a couple of rounds with Augusta National members on the day the tournament was postponed.

“I somewhat expected it, but at the same time, it’s hard to believe,” Augenstein said. “It’s the Masters. You take it for granted. You don’t think something like that could be canceled or postponed. I don’t think any of us understood what was coming.

“I still had a great time. Being there no matter what the circumstances is always enjoyable, and it was as good as it could be. But playing golf was hard with all that going on.”

What soon dawned on him, too, was that he had played his last college golf tournament and that a team with promise was going to be denied — like everyone else in college athletics — a chance to see how it played out.

“John’s previous three years, we had a nice run as a program,” said Limbaugh, who is in his eighth year at Vanderbilt. “We won an SEC championship. We made match play at the [NCAA] national championship two of the three years. John’s been able to do a lot of things for us, and he was 9-1 in our postseason matches. A guy who has really shown up.

“This was his team. He had a solid fall. Our team won its last tournament by 20 shots, and John won the individual title by 6. It was all starting to come together. And then it all comes to an end, and it happened so fast. You don’t have time for a proper farewell.”

Now, like the rest of the sports world, Augenstein waits. He tries to work on his game when he can and will have a decision to make about whether to turn pro or wait for the Masters.

Given the current state of affairs, there is not much of a rush. And plenty of time to ponder what might have been.

“I was so excited to get that feeling of stepping on the first tee and hearing your name called and show what you’ve got,” Augenstein said. “And was so excited to compete and test my game against all those guys out there. That’s ultimately where I want to be.”

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