Orange makes a nice foreground for the greenest backdrop in the country, don't you think?
There will be plenty of it at the Masters this week. Clemson orange and Texas orange and Illinois orange and Virginia orange and hint of Ireland orange, if you count that. But one school's colors will be a bit more prominent than the others as 99 of the luckiest human beings in the world tee it up on Thursday in Augusta.
Oklahoma State is sending four current or former players to the Masters: Hunter Mahan, Rickie Fowler, Bo Van Pelt and amateur Peter Uihlein, the most of any school. Arizona, Georgia Tech, Stanford and UNLV are all sending three.
Mahan and Van Pelt are veterans. Well, Mahan is, Van Pelt is more like a journeyman reliever getting a spot-start in a playoff game. But this will be the first competitive tournament round at Bobby Jones' most famous course for both Uihlein and Fowler, pictured above at Tuesday's practice round.
Uihlein, the reigning U.S. Amateur champ, isn't expected to compete much beyond a battle with the five other non-professionals for the low amateur's prize, the Silver Cup, currently owned by Matteo Manassero.
Fowler, as heralded as he is, is nonetheless a Masters rookie, and to win this tournament as a rookie is nearly without precedent. Fuzzy Zoeller did it in 1979, but before that you have to go back to Gene Sarazen and Horton Smith in the first two Masters tournaments ever played, back when it was called the Augusta National Invitational.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with golf in 2011 is well aware what Fowler is made of, though, and if you need a refresher, just type "2010 Ryder Cup" into YouTube. The then-21-year-old went birdie-birdie-birdie-birdie to halve his match with Edoardo Molinari and give Mahan a shot at U.S. golfing immortality with a last-match win over Graeme McDowell.
Although Mahan couldn't capitalize on his Ryder Cup opportunity, he has been in contention for the Masters recently. He was sixth heading into the final round last year, and in 2009 if not for an errant second-round 75 he would have played Sunday with something on the line. I won't say Mahan's due for a big one, because there's a boatload of golfers with longer major droughts (ahem, Lee Westwood), but I would actually be surprised to not see him in one of the final four groups on Sunday afternoon.
Van Pelt has only played on one Masters, back in 2005, and he failed to make it to the weekend rounds. He's not the same golfer these days, though. His recent resume includes eight top 10s in 2010 and a pair of top 25s in 2011, including a T17 at the Accenture World Match Play Championships where he lost to eventual semifinalist Matt Kuchar.
So who knows, these four guys could feasibly account for the final two pairings on Sunday, or they might all miss the cut. Augusta is wily like that.
My hope, though, is that Mahan finally breaks through and Fowler capitalizes on his Ryder Cup experience. Wouldn't it be something to watch them trade barbs (and shots) on Sunday. Mahan in his heat-seeking glasses, Fowler covered in orange, rounding the turn vying for the most coveted article of clothing in sports today.
I've heard green jackets go nice with cowboy boots.
- Hunter Mahan