Boise State's Graham DeLaet living the dream at his first Masters

ccripe@idahostatesman.comApril 10, 2014 

Like any formal invitation, the one from Augusta National included a two-word request when it arrived at Graham DeLaet's home.

Please RSVP.

"That didn't take long," DeLaet said. "We had that thing in the mail pretty much the next day."

DeLaet, a former Boise State player and part-time Meridian resident, will make his Masters debut at 10:31 a.m. MT Thursday. He plays at 7:02 a.m. Friday.

DeLaet qualified for the Masters by reaching the Tour Championship last season. He also would have been invited as one of the world's top 50 players - he's ranked 30th.

He's one of a record 24 Masters rookies in the exclusive field of 97.

DeLaet, 32, knew the letter from Augusta was coming but receiving it still ranks as "one of the coolest days" of his life. His wife framed the letter almost immediately.

"If there was one tournament I could play in and be done with golf, it would be Augusta and the Masters," DeLaet said. "I still kind of pinch myself once in a while that I'm going to be there.

"When I was there (to practice in March), I was in awe just kind of looking around. I don't know what to expect, to be all honest, but I'm looking forward to it."

DeLaet is coming off the best season of his career and is on pace to top it in 2014. He has finished in the top 10 in 10 of his past 21 tournaments - a staggering success rate that includes three second-place finishes and two thirds.

He has earned invitations to all four majors for the first time in his career. In fact, he made the only two major appearances of his career last year - an 83rd-place finish at the British Open and a missed cut at the PGA Championship.

"These are my dreams - five, six years ago," he said, "and now they've come to fruition. It's pretty awesome."

And he's determined to treat his first Masters experience as just that - an experience. He took about 10 friends and family members to Augusta with him and tweeted a picture Monday of their "first annual Masters cribbage tourney."

"There hasn't been a first-time winner (at the Masters) since 1979, and I'd like to change that," he said, referencing Fuzzy Zoeller's win, "but that being said, it's a week that I've looked forward to my entire life and I wanted to make sure that I have fun. And if I can play well, that would be a bonus."

His recent results suggest he will.

DeLaet tied for 19th last week in Houston at a course set up to help players prepare for Augusta. He hasn't missed a cut since October and ranks 10th on tour in driving distance (303.3 yards), sixth in greens in regulation (71.6 percent) and fourth in ball striking.

Only two players - Harry English and Matt Kuchar - have more top-10 finishes this season. They have six each. DeLaet and seven others have five each.

"I feel like I'm doing the right things on and off of the course," said DeLaet, who splits his free time between Meridian and Scottsdale, Ariz. "... I want to get in that winner's circle, and the only way to do that is to keep giving yourself chances, so that's the plan."

He spent two days last month at Augusta to get his first look at the course. He played 18 holes one day and practiced the other because it was too cold for his back, which was surgically repaired in 2011.

This week, he played a practice round with fellow Canadian and 2003 Masters champion Mike Weir to get an expert's opinion on how to play the course.

"I think this course really sets up well for him," Weir told SCOREGolf of Canada. "He's such a great driver of the ball, and it's an underrated fact that people don't talk about too much, driving the ball around Augusta National, and I think it's a real key if you can get that ball in the short grass. With his power, I think he can really do well here."

The Masters was DeLaet's favorite sporting event to watch on TV as a kid, so he thought he knew the course well when he arrived at Augusta.

He learned that not everything about the course can be appreciated on a flat screen.

"There were a couple of tee shots that I didn't realize you have to move the ball as much as you do," he said. "The green surrounds and the greens are a little more treacherous than I anticipated.

"But what a special place it is."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398, Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

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