The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 11, 2013

Potter captures Par 3 Contest at The Masters

Greenbrier Classic champ sinks 15-foot birdie to win playoff

By Cam Huffman
Sports Editor

Augusta, Ga. — AUGUSTA, Ga. — Greenbrier Classic winner Ted Potter Jr. doesn’t have experience on his side. He’s playing in The Masters for the first time — walking the pristine fairways and learning the greens and fairways by virtue of his win in White Sulphur Springs in July.

The Ocala, Fla., native — who won the Par 3 Contest Wednesday, sinking a 15-foot birdie put  on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff to beat Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar — doesn’t have history in his favor, either.

In the Par 3 Contest, which began in 1960, no Par 3 winner has ever followed that victory with a win in the big tournament that same week. Potter, who was part of a five-way tie at the end of regulation at 4-under-par, put that curse on himself when he lifted the Crystal Pedestal Bowl for the cameras.

“I don’t care about the curse saying you can’t win both,” said Potter. “Just winning something here makes my week already.

“You watch some guys come in and slap it around. They don’t really want to win it or whatever. But to me, I did. I’m very happy the way it came out.”

But Potter — who shares his last name with a famous fictional magician — does have a few tricks up his sleeve. Since his father, a golf course maintenance professional in Florida, taught him to play the game at 2 years old, Potter has been playing left-handed.

Lining up from the opposite side of the ball doesn’t take strokes off of Potter’s scorecard, but at the very least it’s a good luck charm for the 29-year-old, who had won twice on the Web.com Tour before claiming The Greenbrier Classic in a playoff victory over Troy Kelly on the third playoff hole last summer.

Of the last 10 Masters winners, half of them — Bubba Watson (2012), Phil Mickelson (2010, 2006, 2004) and Mike Weir (2003) — have been labeled as “lefties.”

“I didn’t know the odds were that good, but I definitely feel good about playing here this week,” said Potter. “It’s a dream come true.”

Although Potter laughed off the idea of a lefty advantage, and the question of whether he felt any pressure to live up to that standard, the success of the southpaws may not be purely coincidence.

“It depends on how you shape the ball, whether you’re right-handed or left-handed,” said Potter. “You’ve got some holes coming down the stretch where a left-to-right shot is definitely needed in your bag.”

With those three champion lefties again participating in this year’s Masters, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Potter bending their ears in front of the oak tree that shades the Augusta National Golf Club clubhouse or during a practice round.

But the reserved Greenbrier Classic champion — who has made the cut in four out of eight PGA Tour events in 2013, including a 10th-place finish at the Northern Trust Open — said he’s picked up most of his knowledge on his own.

“I really don’t know those guys all that well,” said Potter. “I played a lot by myself and I enjoyed it out there.

“I just try and learn the course that way, and then the local caddies here, ask them certain questions about different slopes and where most of the breaks like to feed to, to the creek or wherever it is. So it’s just been fun getting around it and seeing the course a few times.”

That may not be a bad approach. Knowledge from the local caddies, dressed in their all-white jump suits, has helped many Masters champions navigate their way through an Augusta weekend. In fact, until 1982, players had to use club caddies. Now they are given the choice to bring their own, and most do.

But from time to time you’ll still see a player taking advantage of the local knowledge that comes from the brains of the men who walk the course every day. They’re still a valuable resource.

Potter pointed to the green at the 505-yard par-4 11th as an example. While many of the putts look straight, he learned from the caddies that most of them actually break toward Ray’s Creek, which runs behind the green.

Part of that experience is learning to handle the pressure of the competitive rounds. That will be something that Potter will feel for the first time today when he tees off at 8:33 a.m. in a group with David Toms and Richard Sterne.

But Potter promises he won’t let the results define his first trip to The Masters.

“I definitely love it, and it’s been a real treat so far,” he said. “Whatever happens, I’m going to have a lot of fun.”

 — E-mail: chuffman@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @CamHuffmanRH.