You’ve made quite an impression on the pro Tour as an amateur, highlighted by a T2 at the Australian Masters late last year. How encouraged are you by your ability to compete at the game’s highest level?
Knowing that I can play with some of the best out there is definitely encouraging. Playing with Adam Scott for the first couple days [of the Australian Masters] was an awesome experience. To see a guy who’s that successful, and for him to be that respectful as well—that was great to see. And the experience Down Under was awesome. Australia is a great place. It’s my second favorite country, other than the U.S., obviously. [Laughs]
When you look ahead to turning pro this year, how do you see yourself fitting in? Big expectations?
Well, that’s one misconception that people have about me. I’m very technical in everything I do. But one thing I don’t do is set goals. Goals are actually a hindrance to me, because they limit you. [Not setting goals] allows me to not think of the future and to focus on getting things done at the present time, because that’s what it’s about. It’s about the journey, not the results. So if I’m able to focus on getting things done today, the future will just happen.
Do you think you deserve to be mentioned alongside today’s great young players, like Jordan, Rickie and Rory?
For the most part, yes, but technically, I’m not there, and I mean that in the sense that I’m literally not there. I’ll be turning professional after the Masters, most likely. But I’m still an amateur. I’m playing in some great events. But I’m not making money, although I believe I can. But in a strictly technical sense, I’m still not there.
You were a physics major at Southern Methodist University before you left school last fall to pursue golf full-time. How has your aptitude for science helped your game?
It’s allowed me to make reasonable decisions on the course. I’m very deliberate, and I work extremely hard at trying to understand different aspects of the game in a different way. I use a system called Vector Green Reading, which applies science to the green reads. I’m able to understand how much break a putt has, depending on how far I am from the hole, the slope around the hole, and the friction value, or “step,” to the green. Those three factors combine to give me a certain aiming point. I also have a clock system for my length of stroke.
Is there anything you miss about college?
No. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m super-excited to be here, traveling the world and playing golf. That’s what I’ve always dreamed about. I’d sit in class, or be doing some homework, and I’d be looking outside, thinking to myself, “Man, it’s a beautiful day. I could be practicing right now.”
Let’s talk about the Masters. What was it like to set foot on Augusta National for the first time?
That was an incredible experience, something that I’ll never forget. I’m telling you right now, Bobby Jones was in that place [with me]. His spirit is still there. You can feel it.
ONE THING I KNOW FOR SURE I’LL HAVE THE BEST POSSIBLE PAIRING AT AUGUSTA NATIONAL.
Why? The U.S. Amateur champion plays with the previous Masters champion and U.S. Open champion. But since Jordan Spieth is both the Masters and the U.S. Open champion, the last spot goes to the British Open champion, Zach Johnson. I’ve met Zach a few times and he’s a great guy, and Jordan and I have talked quite a bit. I’m so excited to be able to play with them.
What stands out most about your first visit?
I was walking over the bridge on No. 12, and I was there with my coach, Mike Schy. We looked at each other and said, “This is it. This is what we’ve been working for. All of our hard work, everything, amounts to this.” It amounts to playing in a tournament you’ve dreamed of for your whole life. It was a really poignant moment. The sun was shining. It was later in the day, and the leaves were falling. It was just a sight—and a memory—that I’ll never forget.
Jordan Spieth came close to winning the Masters in his first appearance. Does that give you hope for your prospects this year?
I really do believe that it’s doable. It’s a second-shot golf course, and a putting golf course. But Jordan Spieth is a great iron player, and a great putter. And he was able to figure out those greens his first time around. So if he can do it, then I think it’s definitely doable for myself.
How do you plan to keep your nerves under control when you hear your name announced on the first tee? It really is just another shot. If you make it any more than that, you’re going to faint!