Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Masters Day 1 2011

Jeff Overton arrived at Augusta National last Saturday with Mike Mayer, his former college coach from Indiana University and his current PGA instructor. Despite playing in five previous major championships and the 2010 Ryder Cup, this is Overton's first trip down
Magnolia Lane
and to the Masters.

"We wanted to get to the course and go to work," said Mayer. "Saturday was Jeff's first time to play Augusta National. We went out in the afternoon and when we were on the green at #3, we noticed Tiger Woods behind us. We waited and wound up playing the rest of the front nine with him.

"Tiger was great to Jeff. He helped him with the subtle parts of the course and gave us tips on where pin placements would likely be. When we got to #9, Tiger gave Jeff some advice for the back nine and asked if he wanted to join him for 18 holes on Sunday."

It was the first time that Overton had spent much time with Woods on the golf course, though the two were of course, able to get to know each other a little as teammates on last year's Ryder Cup squad. So of course, Jeff was eager to take Woods up on the offer and met him on Sunday for the full round. Who better to give you advice on the course than a four-time Masters champion?  "There was no better way to get the nerves out of Jeff's system than to play his first two rounds at Augusta with Tiger Woods," observed Mayer.

But that's how things have shaped up for both Overton and Mayer. It's been a storybook ride so far, and it just seems to be getting better.  Though Overton has seen his share of headlines, Mayer has been happy to step back from the limelight and enjoy his student's many successes. But he's still as involved and enthusiastic as he's ever been about teaching and the love of golf.

Mayer graduated from high school in 1975 and went to work as a sports writer for the North Vernon (IN) Plain Dealer. But his love of golf led to a career change and his efforts got him named pro/superintendent of the Muscatuck Country Club a few years later. From there, Mayer got an assistant pro's job at Indiana University. He worked hard and eventually wound up as the head pro and men's golf coach at IU.

Mayer first saw Overton as a high school freshman in 1998. "There was something different about Jeff, even back then. He was a gym rat on the golf course and he had the ability to make birdies and not stop," recalls Mayer. "He wasn't highly recruited, but had solid fundamentals. I didn't change his swing when he got to college. We just tweaked some things and he trusted me. It has been a great relationship."

Under Mayer's watchful eye, Overton gradually improved from what Mayer called "a decent, but not spectacular freshman year". Overton won his four college events as a junior and that run launched his career. He wound up as a two-time All-American setting the IU scoring record while earning All Big Ten honors four times.

Overton won the final match of the 2005 Walker Cup at the Chicago Golf Club. "That just gave him another boost of confidence," said Mayer. "One of the best phone calls I ever got was when he called to tell me that he got his PGA Tour card."

Today, Overton lives in Bloomington, IN which gives Mayer plenty of time to monitor his prized pupil. "Jeff's swing is unique and he has some moving parts. I am able to help him get his swing in a plane where he can be successful. I like to think that I can be a calming influence on him"

Mayer's influence on Overton might not have been more evident than at the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales. Mayer was part of a large IU contingent that followed Overton to the Ryder Cup. "That was my best time with Jeff as a teacher and coach. You have to be there to really understand the magnitude of that setting and he got comfortable in those surroundings. He just kept playing better all week."

So what is Mayer doing to help get Overton ready for his Masters' debut? "The game plan is to attack the par five's. We feel like we need to be 10-under par on those holes. The par four's are real difficult. I think the golf course really fits him and he has to make the 5-7 foot putts."

Mayer says that the Masters' preparation takes place on the course and in the car to and from Augusta National. "We don't talk about it when we get home. Lately, we talked about Butler basketball," laughed Mayer. "But, on the course this week's focus was on putting. His ball striking has been superb." 

Augusta National's toughest hole? "I think it is the 12th", said Mayer. "That is the greatest short par three in golf. The wind always swirls in that part of the course and it is the scariest 145-yard shot I have ever seen."

On Wednesday afternoon, Mayer left Augusta National and returned to Indiana University where his team will host the Indiana Invitational this weekend. It's back to reality for this PGA professional. "My job was to get Jeff ready for The Masters and I have done that. Now, it's back to business and taking care of my team."

Even Mayer admits that this ride has been pretty incredible. "After I got out of the newspaper business, my goal was to become a PGA member. Getting my PGA membership is still one of the highlights of my life. I wear a lot of hats and no doubt I have gotten to wear some special hats because of Jeff Overton."

This weekend will be a challenge for Mayer. His focus will be on his IU team, but he admits that he will be checking the TV to get Overton updates. He admits to having a DVR and what would happen if Overton would be in contention on Sunday?

"I will probably turn my team over to my assistant and I will be on a plane headed to Augusta," says Mayer.

And for what it is worth. The last time a rookie won The Masters was in 1979.

Fuzzy Zoeller, another Indiana native, pulled off the feat. Overton and Mayer would love nothing better than to see history repeat itself on Sunday.

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