The phone call of a lifetime was met with a healthy dose of skepticism by Gordon Sargent.
The Mountain Brook native, an NCAA national champion golfer at Vanderbilt University, got his invitation to play in the 2023 Masters Tournament over the phone. He didn't recognize the number on that early January day, but below it read Augusta National Golf Club.
"I was like, I have to answer this, right," said the 19-year-old Sargent, who is in his second year at Vanderbilt.
Answer it, he did. It took a while, though, for him to believe it was a legitimate invitation.
"The guy was talking to me, and I forgot everything he said because I was trying to figure out if this was real or not," Sargent said. "I don't remember his name or anything. He started talking through the whole week, so I thought this has to be real. I thought, who's going to prank me with this?"
Sargent was offered a special exemption into the Masters Tournament, which will take place April 6-9. He was instructed to keep the information private until it was released to the public. He did talk to Vanderbilt coach Scott Limbaugh to let him know about the call. Limbaugh's first question was a natural one.
"He was like, 'Is that real?'" Sargent said. "I was like, I think so. I don't think he believed me for a couple days."
Sargent carried his secret into the Jones Cup in Sea Island, Georgia, where he joined some of his Vanderbilt teammates in the competition. Just before the event began, they were sitting around watching television when a commercial for the Masters Tournament came on.
"Everybody was talking about how excited they were to watch it," Sargent said. "I was like, 'Yeah, it's going to be pretty cool to watch.' It was pretty tough (not to tell), but, at the same time, I had a lot to focus on that week."
He finished sixth in the Jones Cup, and the official invitation had come in the mail by the time he got back to his Mountain Brook home.
Sargent was asked on Wednesday what this opportunity means to him.
"It means a lot, just to represent Vanderbilt and amateur golf at the Masters," Sargent said "It's a cool honor. There are some tournaments that get you into the Masters, but just to have that opportunity to play is special. I think it just shows that they think you can compete with the best in the world. I'm kind of looking forward to testing my game at that level and just seeing what the best players in the world do."
It will be his second time on the Augusta National course. He played a round there as a 14-year-old. This time will be different. He's going with a lofty goal in mind.
"You got to have the right mindset," Sargent said. "They've given me the opportunity to play. It's going to be a really cool experience. But, also, we're not going there just to play. We're going there to win and represent Vanderbilt to the highest ability."
For now, though, his mindset is not on the Masters Tournament. That can wait. For now, he is focused on his second season in college golf.
A year ago, Sargent became the first true freshman since 2007 and ninth overall to win the NCAA Individual title. His birdie putt put an end to a four-man playoff at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona. As a team, the Commodores made it to the NCAA semifinals before losing.
"I picked Vanderbilt for a reason, just knowing this was a place that would help me get better with the players around me and the coaches," Sargent said. "One big thing was maturity when you got to college, learning how to play golf. Junior golf and college golf are so much different. It's also going to be a shift to pro golf from college."
In April, he will take a week away from his college golf focus to take a glance into his future.
"I don't think you have to be scared of in playing a professional event or anything," Sargent said. "That's where I see myself in a couple of years, just kind of knowing that you belong. What it comes down to is just putting the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. We've all done that at some point, so just kind of keep that in your mind."
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