By Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The tournament began with the honorary starters ceremony, featuring three of the greatest Masters champions. Over the next three days, the best golfers in the nation will compete at Augusta National Golf Club.

Among them is a local golfer who is living out his dream. WCCO first told you about Sammy Schmitz in October. He’s one of six amateurs invited to the Masters. He’s 35 and barely played golf during his 20s.

But the seasonal golfer entered the right amateur tournament last year, hit a hole-in-one on a par four and got an invitation to golf’s greatest affair.

After a light morning snow, Fountain Valley golf course in Farmington is quiet, as expected in early April in Minnesota. But it’s full swing in Augusta and that’s where course owner Bryce Olson’s attention is.

“It’s unreal — that’s the best word to use,” he said.

Little Sammy, as he was known, is playing Augusta.

“You could see that he had a lot of ability,” Olson said. “His striking of the ball was unusual for his age and his size. He also had some guts. He stole range balls.”

They worked things out and he started working at the course as a teen, eventually tying the course record at 63.

The crowd at Long Branch Saloon was watching the tournament closely, too.

“He was here last year sitting, hoping that he’d get in,” owner Kenneth Labeau said.

Sue Ridberg used to babysit Schmitz.

“No amateur from the tournament that he came from has made the cut,” she said. “But really, he has his green jacket because he got to play.”

Hank Tressel watched Sammy train this winter at Braemar Golf dome.

“I said, ‘If you finish in the top ten, you get to come back again next year.’ He said, ‘Don’t even bring that up,'” Tressel said.

But the finish isn’t so important to his supporters — it’s the fact that he even got to start.

Schmitz started out strong Thursday — par on the front nine — but then on the back nine, he was nine over. We’ll know Friday if he made the cut.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield