It's been a long road for Mark Wilson, from a backyard bunker in Menomonee Falls to the tee boxes at Amen Corner at Augusta National Golf Club.
He earned his first trip to the Masters last April, 14 years after turning professional out of the University of North Carolina.
In between, his story – one of faith and perseverance – has been spread from Florida to Mexico to Hawaii as the 37-year-old has now won five times on the PGA Tour.
Beginning with his March 1, 2009 victory at the Mayakoba Golf Classic in Mexico and up until today's first round at the Masters Tournament – a span of just over 3 years - the 5-foot, 8-inch, 145-pound Wilson has won four times, notched eight other top 10 finishes and ascended to as high as No. 24 in the world rankings.
It's a stretch of play that rivals that of more notable names, such as Sergio Garcia, Brandt Snedeker and K.J. Choi.
"Those are just numbers though," Wilson told OnMilwaukee.com before The Masters. "I know have to continue to perform and ultimately it's the back nine on Sundays within contention that I play for, and really enjoy the competition and the opportunity to see if my mind can hold up in that extreme pressure."
Wilson has long credited mental game coach Dr. Bob Rotella for allowing him to do that, and realize he had the talent to compete – and beat – the game's best.
He admits he still struggles with placing high expectations on himself prior to an event, so he tries to focus on fundamentals and let the tournament play out as it will.
"It's easier said than done," he admitted. "It's one of those things but I know when I play my best I go into a week with low expectations. All of the tournaments I've on won the PGA Tour I've gone into not thinking about winning, whereas on the other hand after having success, maybe a win or a good finish, going into the very next week I usually come out flat because you expect things to go your way so simply, and that's just not the way golf goes. I think that's the beauty of it though, to keep trying every week to keep my expectations low and play the best I can."
Wilson hopes the lessons learned last year, the first in which he competed in all four majors, will help him as he makes his second Masters start.
He missed the cut at the Masters with rounds of 76 and 71, and missed the cut at U.S. Open before finishing tied for 63rd at the British and tied for 26th at the PGA Championship.
"I feel that I learned a lot playing all four majors last year and that I just prepared maybe a little bit too hard," he said. "Certainly you've got to prepare, but at the same time you want to be rested, so I haven't gone to Augusta this year. I'm just going to play it just like another golf tournament and not put it on a pedestal.
"I know I'll be nervous and wanting to play well but at least I've been there already on that first tee at Augusta and when they announce your name for the Masters. I know what the feeling is and I'm excited to go back and do it again."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.