June 24, 2017. A date that will forever be etched in the mind of Florida State redshirt senior golfer Harry Ellis. It’s a date that opened doors that many amateur golfers can only dream of walking through.
It was on that late June day that Ellis made a miraculous comeback – being four holes down with just five left to play – to come back in sudden death and defeat Australian Dylan Perry for the Amateur Championship. The climactic win at Royal St. George’s in virtually his own backyard in England gave him exemptions to compete as an amateur at the 2017 Open Championship, the 2018 Masters and the 2018 U.S. Open.
On April 5, 2018, Ellis will partake in his second leg of his professional exemption tour. He learned quite a bit playing among the best at last year’s Open Championship, talking with the likes of former Seminole Brooks Koepka, fellow Englishman Justin Rose and many others. But now he gets ready to play in arguably the most sacred event in golf, competing against the best of the best surrounded by adoring fans and picturesque azaleas.
“I’m excited not only to be part of the field, but excited to prepare for a Masters – I think it’s pretty unique and something I’ve dreamed about doing,” Ellis said. “I was nervous on the first tee at The Open, so that’s natural – everyone feels that. It’s a good feeling, a feeling that every golfer would love to have.”
Ellis is one of six amateurs competing, hoping to achieve the Silver Cup given out to the low amateur of the tournament who makes the cut. He tees off on Thursday at 9:25 a.m. and is paired with 1998 Masters champion Mark O’Meara and Brian Harman, who tied for second at last year’s U.S. Open.
The native of Southampton, England, is choosing to not let his pre-swing jitters get the best of him as he walks toward the opening tee and takes his first cut at The Masters. Instead, the intellectually-sound Englishman is embracing the nerves that come with playing on such a big stage.
“Pressure, I would say no,” Ellis said when asked if he was feeling any. “There’s nothing for me to prove. As an amateur, it’s an honor to be in the field and be given the opportunity. In terms of nerves, that comes closer to the tournament. Nerves are good – that’s what I love about sport. The competition is to feel nerves, to feel an element of stress in a way and learning how to deal with that and turn it into positive energy.”
— FSU Golf (@FSUGolf) April 3, 2018
Ellis’ ability to handle stress over these last four years has been well-documented. His mother Tracey passed away from breast cancer in December 2013, and roughly three weeks later Ellis was headed several miles overseas to attend school and play golf at Florida State. For someone who became the youngest English amateur champion at the age of 16 in 2012, the loss took him a while to emotionally get back on his feet.
After a few years of weaving his way in and out of FSU’s starting five, Ellis seemed to overcome his own personal odds over the last 18 months when he emerged as one of the nation’s best collegiate golfers. From participating in both the Palmer and Walker Cups to winning two tournaments in the 2017-18 season, his run of success has been inspiring.
Always behind him has been his family back in England, including his father Murray. He has also formed a strong niche of friends at Florida State who have given him immeasurable support.
That’s why he feels his first Masters trip is as much for his family and friends as it is for himself.
“It’s going to be exciting and it’s going to be good to be around my family again,” Ellis said. “I haven’t seen them for several months so it will be nice to have them over. It helps with getting your mind away from it and having some fun with them. It’s kind of a celebration for all of us – for them to be there with me and have an opportunity to come around with a trip to The Masters. Whether I play well or not, it doesn’t matter – it’s a great opportunity for them to enjoy The Masters.”
One of those big supporters will be his head coach at Florida State, Trey Jones. The 15-year coach for the Seminoles has always proclaimed that he will be in Augusta every time one of his student-athletes competes in The Masters for the first time.
“He guides and directs,” Ellis added of Jones. “He knows what’s best for each player, and I think it’s important to realize that everything that Coach Jones loves and the other coaches around here, there’s a reason why they’re doing it. When I first came in it wasn’t the easiest ride for me, but it was a case where the coaches stood by me and believed in me. To have people around you who believe in you and want the best in you, that’s one of the best assets.”
As Ellis checks this week off his bucket list, he promises not to get awestruck with whom he’s sharing the famous course with. His experience playing at The Open Championship last year helps that. But this year’s Masters has created a lot of extra buzz with a certain once-in-a-generation golfer getting back to peak form.
“Well, Tiger’s in the field,” Ellis said with a laugh when asked if there’s a golfer he would like to meet. “I’ve met some good people but I’m not a person who gets star struck. I want to be where they’re at. I think it’s important you walk your own footsteps and walk your own path. It’s nice to get some information from those guys in terms of how to deal with the whole week. Whoever I meet is a bonus, but for me it’s embracing the whole week and everything that comes with it.”
The FSU All-American, and about a few dozen family and friends, will certainly soak up the moment. Especially come Thursday morning.
Harry Ellis on adjusting to a major championship while still competing in college:
“You go from playing with college players to being in a completely different arena. It’s important to make the right transition and keep with the things that you know how to do. Once the event comes around, it’s about being as relaxed as you can possibly be. Hopefully it will create a lot of memories and be a lot of fun.”
The work he has put in to prepare for the Masters:
“I think I’ve done a lot of work in trying to tie down my golf swing and find some consistency. I think I’ve gotten to that self-reflecting phase over the last couple of tournaments where I’ve been reflecting too much in my tournament rounds rather than staying in the moment and playing. That’s mainly because you have The Masters in the back of your mind – you’re getting closer to it and people are talking about it. You only get to play in your first Masters once.”
On playing with an open mind:
“I’m definitely at my best when I have a free mind and just playing each shot as it comes. I’ll remind myself at The Masters to play each shot at a time.”
On FSU producing a pipeline for professional golf:
“We talk about Brooks (Koepka) and Daniel (Berger) and Jonas (Blixt), but there’s more people than that. The bunch of players I’m around, they’re all doing quite well. There’s a lot to be said for what Coach does for us and the opportunities he gives to us. That’s massive not only for golf but also in life.”