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An Augusta tradition unlike any other

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The junior golfers at the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship were not the only competitors who helped provide an early start to Masters week.

For the past five years, the DCP finals have been held at Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday before the Masters. Four miles away, another significant event has highlighted some emerging amateur golf talent.

The 3M Augusta Invitational welcomed some of the top collegians to historic Forest Hills Golf Club. Led by medalist Dylan Meyer, Illinois romped to a 15-stroke victory Sunday as traditional national powers Houston and Wake Forest tied for second (scores). Future major champions such as Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Justin Leonard, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson have played as collegians at Forest Hills. The club’s championship pedigree traces to the 1930s and Augusta National co-founder Bobby Jones.

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PHOTO BY ALEX MICELI
Dylan Meyer leads Illinois to a sweep of the team and individual titles Sunday at the 3M Augusta Invitational, but the Illini and other competitors will share in the top prize today: tickets to Augusta National.

PHOTO BY ALEX MICELI
Dylan Meyer leads Illinois to a sweep of the team and individual titles Sunday at the 3M Augusta Invitational, but the Illini and other competitors will share in the top prize today: tickets to Augusta National.

Host Augusta University, which won the 2010 and ’11 national championships, annually attracts some of the top national and regional programs.

“I like the golf course,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “It proposes different challenges. It’s old-school golf. The event has unique flavor to it, perspective to it. It’s the time of year when the golf course may not be in its best shape, because it’s Bermuda [which goes dormant in the winter], but I like that. I like it where you’re confronted with some challenges that you’re not normally going to see up north.”

Walking the undulating fairways at Forest Hills and being close to the action presents a different experience than what the golf fans will find this week at Augusta National.

For the college players, not only do they get to play a good golf course and against excellent competition, but another huge benefit is a ticket to Augusta National on Monday.

Small said it’s important for his players to see the next level of tournament golf, considering many of them hope to make it inside the ropes on the PGA Tour.

“All the players have never been, so it’s going to be a new experience for us all,” UCLA’s Cole Madey said of his teammates’ expectations for Augusta National. “[I’ll] probably walk all 18 holes, check it out and see if Tiger’s around. I’m a huge fan and will soak it all in.”

Madey, a junior from Portland, Ore., is not alone. The first trip to Augusta as a fan is nothing short of amazing, but the experience at Forest Hills also proved to be memorable for players and fans alike.

“I hope we come back next year,” Madey said.

If he does, the Bruins likely will face the defending-champion Illini.

“I really don’t play against a team as much as I play against what I think our team can do,” said Small, whose Illini were No. 16 in the Golfweek/Sagarin College Rankings. “And I’ve got an expectation bar where I want my team to be in two and three and four or five weeks, and this helps us get there. This is why I come to this thing.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli