ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Not many people have the opportunity to spurn several invitations to play Augusta National Golf Club and live to tell about it.
Tom McKnight now has just that.
By upsetting the Spanish sensation Sergio Garcia 3-and-1 during the U.S. Amateur semifinals Saturday, McKnight will get his invitation to play the 1999 Masters. So to will SMU senior Hank Kuehne, a 6-and-5 victor over Bill Lunde.
And think. If McKnight, this 44-year-old petroleum distributor from Galax, Va., can upend another young gun in today's 36-hole final at Oak Hill Country Club to win the Havemayer Trophy, he would be older than his Masters opening-round playing partner. A fellow by the name of O'Meara.
"I think I can handle that," joked McKnight. "I'm just hoping to be able to take it back on the first tee, though."
The first 18 holes of the final round will begin at 10 a.m., with the second 18 starting at 2:45 p.m.
McKnight has never been to Augusta though he's had his opportunities. Friends have offered up badges, and twice, he's gotten the call to fill out a foursome.
Each time it's been the same response: No thanks.
"I didn't want to go until I could be in the tournament," McKnight said. "I wanted to play and not watch. This will make it that much more special."
McKnight is a reinstated amateur, having toiled on Spacecoast Tours and other assorted mini-tours until taking over his father's business in 1981. The McKnight Oil Co. distributes gas to the Citgo and Exxon lines, and it owns 17 convenience stores in the Southwest Virginia Appalachians.
McKnight fulfilled a lifelong dream with his win Saturday when Garcia, the British Amateur champ already exempted into next year's Masters field, bogeyed 15 and 17 to lose.
The self-effacing father of three plays a controlled game, one of accuracy over aggrandizement. When asked Saturday what his strengths are, he replied: "I hit it short."
Unlike Kuehne, a boomer who is longer with his driver than Tiger Woods. The final will be a contradiction in styles, for sure.
Kuehne is a recovering alcoholic who never fretted with Lunde, especially after the graduated UNLV senior three-putted the 1st from 20 feet, handing over a lead over to Kuehne that he would not relinquish. At the turn, Kuehne stood 6-up and had visions of azaleas dancing in his mind.
"It's been a dream ever since I've played golf," said Kuehne, whose brother Trip qualified for the 1995 Masters as a '94 U.S. Amateur finalist. "I wasn't able to be there with my brother we he played because I was in rehab at the time, and they don't exactly go out on a pass to watch the Masters."
He won't need one next April.
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