Rookie Curse?

Wyndham Clark and 2023 U.S. Amateur finalists from Cherry Hills among those who will try to buck the odds by winning in their Masters debuts

By Gary Baines – 4/8/2024

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Of the 89 competitors in this week’s Masters tournament, 20 are making their debuts in the event. And of those 20, three have significant Colorado connections.

Wyndham Clark was born in Denver and grew up in Colorado, graduating from Valor Christian High School. And the other two earned Masters berths because of what they did last August at Cherry Hills Country Club as both the reigning U.S. Amateur champion and runner-up make the field. Nick Dunlap defeated Neal Shipley 4 and 3 in the scheduled 36-hole final at Cherry Hills. 

Dunlap, who played for the University of Alabama, turned pro early this year in the wake of winning The American Express, becoming the first amateur to capture a PGA Tour title in 33 years. Meanwhile, Shipley remains an amateur, playing for Ohio State.

The potential bad news for those three — and the other 17 Masters rookies — is that, based strictly on history, the odds of a competitor winning in their Masters debuts are not good at all. 

To be precise, it’s happened once since 1935, as Fuzzy Zoeller pulled off the feat in 1979. One of the only two previous occasions a “rookie” won the Masters was in the tournament’s first year — obviously inevitably — when Horton Smith prevailed in 1934. And Gene Sarazen managed it in 1935.

Clark — being ranked No. 4 in the world and having won three PGA Tour events in the last year, including the U.S. Open — is probably one of the 10 favorites to win this week. But in order to make that happen, he’ll have to overcome the dreaded rookie curse.

As for Dunlap and Shipley, fittingly they played some practice holes together on Monday at Augusta National.

“I actually texted him last night and told him I’d like a little bit of a rematch,” Shipley said. “So it was a fun day to be out there with him. He’s such a great guy. I really enjoyed it.”

Not surprisingly, both 2023 U.S. Am finalists are savoring competing in the Masters for the first time.

“I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,” Dunlap said. “You know, it’s the greatest place on earth, and I’m honored to be here. It’s really, really cool.”

On the 12th hole, Dunlap took the obligatory selfie on one of the most picturesque spots on the course.

“I don’t know if I was allowed to or not, but …,” he said. “Life is too short for special things like that (to be missed). I may not get a chance to come back. Maybe I’ll play 20 more times. I have no idea. … I’m just trying to take it in as best as I can.”

As for Shipley, “Having crowds here, it’s fun,” he said. “I like to feed off this energy and just really enjoy the moment. I don’t feel uncomfortable at all.”

Joining Clark, Dunlap and Shipley in making their Masters debuts in 2024 are Ludvig Åberg, Akshay Bhatia, Eric Cole, amateur Santiago de la Fuente, Austin Eckroat, Ryo Hisatsune, Lee Hodges, Nicolai Højgaard, Stephan Jaeger, Jake Knapp, amateur Christo Lamprecht, Peter Malnati, Denny McCarthy, Grayson Murray, Matthieu Pavon, Adam Schenk, and amateur Jasper Stubbs.

With things gearing up heading into Thursday’s opening round of the Masters, here are a smattering of photos from Monday’s practice round at Augusta National:

Five-time Masters champ Tiger Woods drew his usual large galleries on Monday.

About the Writer: Gary Baines has covered golf in Colorado continuously since 1983. He was a sports writer at the Daily Camera newspaper in Boulder, then the sports editor there, and has written regularly for since 2009. The University of Colorado Evans Scholar alum was inducted into the Colorado Golf Hall of Fame in 2022. He owns and operates