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Oliver Wilson Q&A


Wilson feels 'right at home' in Augusta

England's Oliver Wilson is a bit of a star in Augusta, and he has not even played in the Masters yet.

The 28-year-old Ryder Cup player from Mansfield lived in the town for six years and attended Augusta State University on a golf scholarship between 2000-2003.

As the university's top player, Wilson was briefly ranked as the number one collegiate golfer in America.

He has yet to win on Tour, but was runner-up four times last season to earn a Ryder Cup debut. After sitting out the first day, he and Henrik Stenson fought back from four down to beat Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim in the Saturday foursomes.

And now the world number 39 is back in what he calls his second home for a first Masters appearance, buoyed by a ninth and a fifth in the two World Golf Championship events this year.

What were your first impressions of the Augusta National?

I played it four times in college. We would go once a year - it was always a great day to look forward to. We'd play the par-three course in the morning and the main course in the afternoon.

I remember when I first drove down Magnolia Drive - it was incredible. It's so lush with all the trees and so green.

You wouldn't imagine the course is where it is, right in the middle of town. You walk through the clubhouse to the course on other side. It kind of shocks you how hilly it is. And just how green it is, manicured to perfection.

It's so much fun, it's like playing on a big, lush green carpet. It's hard to describe but it's just perfect. All your senses are switched on there. It's a very special place.

Level-par 72 is my best round so I've got a bit of work to do, although I'd probably take four level pars this week.

What are the keys to playing the course?

You are always playing from slopey lies, which is the toughest thing about playing the course, I think. You don't pick that up from TV. The ball is always above your feet or below your feet, on a downhill slope or an uphill slope and you are always hitting into small targets.

That's what makes it so hard. It's one of those courses that tests you in every area of the game. Your short game has to be perfect and your long game and iron play has to be really good.

Obviously you've got to putt well but hitting into the greens, you can't leave yourself too many tough putts. You have to miss in the right places. If you miss the greens in the wrong places you're just dead.

On a lot of courses, if you miss in the wrong places you've still got a chance of getting up and down but at Augusta there's only a very small chance. Unless you hit the hole you're going to end up with some big numbers.

If you can avoid the big scores and plod your way around, thinking well and playing well you'll do OK.

What are the best things about Augusta?

They do a great egg salad sandwich which is quite famous and people go back every year to get them. But one of the things I'm really looking forward to is the par-three tournament. It's a great little extra and quite a relaxed event and probably one of the most exciting things for me.

Four under is my best score around the par-three course. Hopefully if I can do something like that I might have a chance. I'm not worried about the tradition of the par-three winner never winning the Masters. Any trophy from Augusta will do. But you never know, I might be the one to change history and win them both.

What is Augusta like as a town?

It's a quiet town, and quite a small community with not a lot going on and not loads of places to go out and enjoy yourself. But it is growing and modernising with a lot of new restaurants and new buildings going up.

You certainly wouldn't put it at the centre of the golfing universe. There are a lot of golf courses (nine in Augusta) and golf is the main thing but the place doesn't revolve around it the rest of the year.

But during the week of the Masters it's hyper.

In early March things start to change. Signs and advertising start going up and people using their gardens for parking start getting ready. You see more club cars and golf carts on Washington Road, the main road in Augusta, or parked outside restaurants.

Oliver Wilson
Wilson finished fifth at last month's WGC-CA Championship

A couple of weeks before it's just a gentle progression up to the Masters. On the Sunday before there's lots more traffic and then from the Monday the place is just jammed with people coming in all week. It gets really chaotic. The nightlife is really good and it's a lot of fun with lots of places to go and parties everywhere.

My favourite bar used to be called Somewhere in Augusta. It's where we used to hang out in college. It was a small, underground place and quite easy to miss though it has moved now. It was quite a sporty bar and all the college athletes used to go there.

Another place called Wild Wing is where I probably spend more time when I go back now but Somewhere in Augusta brings back memories of college.

What was it like being at college there - are you a bit of a celebrity in Augusta?

Ha, ha. Well, I don't know about that. I'm not quite that big. But within golfing circles I spent a lot of time there so I know a lot of people that play golf in the local golf clubs.

It was a cool school to go to because it's quite a small community so everyone kind of knows everyone. There was a lot of fun and a lot of parties and camaraderie going on.

In college in America there's quite a lot of athletes and they all tend to hang out together. You go to school, practice, go to the gym, maybe a bit of night school and then towards the weekend it's time to enjoy yourself and do all the usual college stuff which is always fun.

I know quite a few guys still in Augusta so that's one of the things that will be cool about going back. Hopefully I'll have a lot of support and it should be an exciting week.

What's the difference between being a top college player and a top Tour pro?

If you are a top college player you've probably got what it takes in terms of physique and if haven't you can work on it.

When I was in college my ball-striking wasn't very good at all, but you can work on that too. Improving your short game and putting is harder, it's more down to feel and what you've got inside you. I always had a good short game and learned how to play and score before I had a good golf swing.

But the biggest difference is the mental side - how much you want it, how much you are willing to give up, how hard you're willing to work for it. It's amazing how many guys you come through college with or play with for England and think they can't fail, but looking back 10 years on they're nowhere to be seen. It's also very important to make the right decisions regarding your career when you come out of college.

There are about 15-20 guys I played against at college that are now making a mark on Tour - the likes of Nick Watney, Camilo Villegas, DJ Trahan, Brandt Snedeker, Bill Haas, Johnson Wagner. In LA the other week I looked across the practice range and it was like being back at a college event.

Talk about your Ryder Cup experience

I played really good at the Ryder Cup, I just wish I had played more. It was very disappointing. I was really looking forward to it and had worked hard to get there and then sat out the first day.

When you qualify for the Ryder Cup you just want to play every match. But I knew there were a lot of experienced guys there and can understand why I didn't.

It's not much fun being on the sidelines. It's great being part of it and cheering on the guys in that fantastic atmosphere but when you're not actually playing it's very different and feels a bit flat.

I was so excited to get going and it was all pent up I guess, I wasn't actually nervous at all. I don't know why but it's the calmest I've ever been on a golf course by far. It was the best experience I've ever had.

Oliver Wilson
Wilson and Henrik Stenson earned a win in the foursomes at the Ryder Cup

It was the most daunting beforehand but I got to the first tee I felt so alive and switched on but so calm underneath it all. Maybe that's why I played so well.
Henrik and I had a bit of an up and down day. In golf, and especially matchplay, you never know what's going to happen. It was an important lesson to all of us to just hang in there.

You have always got a chance, and even though we all know that, it's hard to do at times. But we were playing two of the best players in the world and came back from four down so it shows that really is true.

It was such a high, the highest point of my career, especially to hole the winning putt. We went from a bit of a low to a massive high. It does make you walk taller and feel more confident. It's always nice to get that first point on the board and it feels like you've given something to the team.

As the only European Ryder Cup player never to have won a tournament, how much is the lack of a win affecting you?

Obviously that's my main goal but it doesn't really bother me. I'm on track and if I keep getting into contention it's going to happen. Some people have tournaments given to them and sometimes it's really hard to win. I certainly haven't had any given to me and it's just one of those things that's proving tricky.

But I know when I do break through it will unlock the door to quite a lot of victories.

The Ryder Cup has given me the confidence to know I can perform under that spotlight and my state of mind from that week is something I'll try to recreate if I can.

I've had a good start to this year with two top 10s in World Golf Championship events so I now know I can produce in majors, I've just got to get into contention.

It would be a fairytale story for me to break my duck at the Masters and it's probably just a little bit too much to ask for this year but you never know.

Oliver Wilson was talking to BBC Sport's Rob Hodgetts

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