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Athletics

Carolina junior Austin Greaser to play in The Masters

Austin Greaser, a junior on Carolina's top-10 ranked golf team, earned an invitation to play in both the Masters and the U.S. Open by advancing to the finals of the 2021 United States Amateur.

Austin Greaser playing golf.
(Photo by Jeffery Camarati)

When the 2022 Masters gets underway on Thursday at the famed Augusta National Golf Club, 21-year-old Tar Heel Austin Greaser will live the dream of every young golfer in the world by teeing off with and against some of golf’s all-time greats. He will be paired with Masters champion Mike Weir and three-time major winner Padraig Harrington.

Greaser, a junior on Carolina’s top-10 ranked golf team, earned an invitation to play in both the Masters and the U.S. Open in June by advancing to the finals of the 2021 United States Amateur, which was contested last August at Oakmont Country Club in Pennsylvania. Greaser defeated four higher-seeded opponents to reach the final, where he lost in a nationally-televised match to Michigan State’s James Piot.

The opportunity to play in the Masters was certainly on Greaser’s mind even before the final 36-hole match.

“I actually called Coach (Andrew) DiBitetto the night after the quarterfinals and his wife, Laree, gave me a pretty good pep talk, because as a player you know what the semifinal match means,” says Greaser. “You can’t not think about it. The first thing that comes to mind if you win your semifinal is playing in the U.S. Open. Then the past few years the two finalists have also been invited to the Masters. I wasn’t thinking about it on the course. I was more worried about executing my game plan, but it’s definitely in the back of your head.”

Greaser received unofficial word from Augusta in early September, which coincided nicely with his first collegiate victory, when he holed a shot from 168 yards on the 54th and final hole to defeat a strong national leaderboard in the Olympia Fields Fighting Illini Invitational. The actual invitation to play in the Masters and compete against world-class players like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson came as an early Christmas present on Dec. 22.

“Augusta is the coolest place in the world,” says Greaser, “and to play against these guys is super cool. You get to watch them all the time on TV and you aspire to be like them and play against them. But this is where I pictured myself playing with the best on the biggest stage. I’ve always pictured myself here since I was a little kid. That’s what I practice for.”

Greaser was allowed several opportunities to practice at Augusta since the fall and will have played the course eight to 10 times before teeing off in the first round. Seeing up close and personal the hallowed grounds where many of golf’s most historic moments came to fruition has only added to Greaser’s experience.

“I’ve watched them hit the great shots they’ve hit here, all the Tiger memories like the chip in on 16 in 2005 and his record-setting performance in 1997. It’s just a special place to be able to peg it alongside some of the best players in the world.”

All that history and tradition aside, Greaser is preparing to play the Masters the way he trains for other collegiate and amateur tournaments.

“I’m 100 percent approaching it the same way I approach every event, doing everything and every preparation like I need to do to win. Hopefully, that doesn’t come across as arrogant. I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way. But at the same time, everybody’s putting the peg in the ground the same and everybody has the same chance. I’ve tried to prepare the way I do for every event and give my best to go out there and compete.”

The Vandalia, Ohio, native recognizes the unique aspect of an amateur golfer, whose next tournament will be in the ACC Championship, playing against the best players in the world on one of the game’s most legendary courses.

“Obviously I’m also trying to enjoy the event and have a lot of fun. This is a special opportunity, especially for an amateur and my family. It’s something we’ve dreamed of for a long time and didn’t know how soon it would come, but here we are at 21 years old, so it’s going to be a really fun week, too.”

Greaser’s phone blew up with congratulatory text messages after his dramatic run to the championship match at the U.S. Amateur, and he is also receiving countless messages wishing him well this week in Augusta.

“I’ve put my phone down to focus on my family and me but I appreciate all the support. I said after the Amateur the support was more than I could imagine. I appreciate everybody reaching out to me and will get back to them as soon I can. I didn’t know that many people like me.”

What people also like is Greaser’s game. He has the lowest stroke average in Carolina history at 71.43 over 76 rounds in 24 college tournaments. Greaser is the only Tar Heel ever with a career average below 72.00. He has 11 top-10 and seven top-5 finishes, shooting in the 60s 28 times. He is currently ranked No. 11 in the world (No. 8 USA) by Golfweek/Amateur Golf.com and No. 23 in the world (No. 16 USA) in the World Amateur Golf Rankings.

As a sophomore, he earned honorable mention All-America honors by the coaches as well as All-ACC, All-East Region and Academic All-ACC honors. He tied for fifth at the 2021 ACC Championship at 4-under 206, becoming one of only three Tar Heels ever to shoot in the 60s in all three rounds in an ACC Championship. He defeated eventual National Collegiate Player of the Year John Pak of Florida State in match play in the ACC Tournament and rallied to earn a tie against Cameron Sisk of Arizona State in his NCAA quarterfinal match after trailing early by three holes.

DiBitetto is caddying for Greaser at the Masters and knows his job this week has many functions.

“This is pretty amazing for all of us,” says DiBitetto, who is in his fifth year as Carolina’s head coach. “A few weeks ago, I was fortunate to walk Augusta with Austin. We were on the first tee, which is up the hill on top of everything where you can really see out. Austin tapped me and said, ‘When you got into coaching, did you ever think you’d have this moment?’ No, I didn’t. But to have that moment was special. He’s the first, but hopefully not our last to play in the Masters, but this is an incredible opportunity.”

DiBitetto will do more than carry the bag and rake sand traps, but he knows Greaser is well-positioned to compete this week.

“Austin doesn’t need much help, he’s pretty darn good and he’s got a good head on his shoulders. We’ve spent a decent amount of time together during the college season when I walk with him. He thinks the game well. His flat stick (putter) is one of the best, if not the best I’ve ever seen. We don’t play the game the same, I can assure you of that, but we see the game the same and we think the game the same. (My job this week) ends up being a lot of confirmation from my end. If he sees left edge and he turns and says do you see left edge, and yes, I see left edge it gives him a bit more confidence and more commitment to that stroke. I know him well. Maybe there’s a moment where I need to kind of kick him in the butt or put my arm around him. Whatever I can do to make sure he’s comfortable so he can do what he does, which is play great golf.”

Greaser’s Masters begins Thursday in the second group of the tournament, teeing off at 8:11 a.m. with 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir and 2007, 2008 Open champion and 2008 PGA champion Padraig Harrington. (Greaser was not quite three years old when Weir won the Masters).

“What I’ve learned in the practice rounds are tee shots are pretty crucial to setting yourself up to be able to fire at the pins or at least the quadrants and sections of the greens you really need to fire at,” says Greaser. “Most importantly, you’ve got to have a pretty good flat stick. The greens are not easy, but I really like them. They’re bentgrass, which is what I grew up playing on. I’m comfortable with them but they are not easy at all. If you can give yourself a good chance by putting the ball in the fairway to get a little closer to the pin you can give yourself some opportunities to make some putts. The last thing I’ve really learned is you’ve got to eat up the par 5s. Historically if you look at past champions, they did a really good job on the par 5s and the rest of the golf course they played about even par.”

Greaser’s goals are to put himself in position to compete on the weekend and get the most out of this incredible opportunity.

“I want to have a lot of fun; I want to enjoy it. It’s going to be special for my family, my closest friends and me. I also want to learn a lot of things about myself; how I stack up against the best and what I need to work on in my game to get back here as fast as I can.”

The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club is, as CBS’s Jim Nantz so eloquently says, a tradition like no other. From the lush green course to the stunningly beautiful azaleas that signal the annual advent of spring; the famed Amen Corner of holes 11 to 13, which includes the 12th hole known as the most difficult par-3 in the world; the most exciting final nine holes in championship golf, including the 16th where Woods chipped in from behind the green and the 17th where Jack Nicklaus rolled in his winning putt in 1986 for his sixth green jacket. Memories and history abound on every acre of the course and Greaser embraces the moment well.

“It’s hard to put in words because the course is very surreal, mesmerizing,” says Greaser. “It almost feels like a video game. My brother, Byron, and I have watched on TV together every single year, so you feel like you know the course before you even get here. And then to walk where literally all the greats have walked. One of the coolest for me is across the Hogan Bridge on 12. The reason that’s so cool to do is everybody else can walk all the parts of Augusta except across Rae’s Creek. You’re in a very, very small company. When you walk across the Hogan Bridge, no patrons can go there. It’s all the greats that have ever played the Masters. To harness that and enjoy the fact I’m walking in the steps where anyone you can ever think of in golf has walked. That’s one of the coolest things of what makes Augusta National so special.”

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