Laird Shepherd’s memories of time spent working in a Tesco call centre and fearing that injury would scupper his golfing ambitions will melt away when he tees it up at this year’s Masters.
Shepherd’s rollercoaster ride of a journey to Augusta for the 86th edition of the Masters is detailed in the latest edition of the England Golf Podcast.
The English amateur will live the dream of every golfer when he takes his place in the star-studded field at Augusta National next month courtesy of his dramatic victory in the 126th Amateur Championship staged at Nairn last June.
For the 24-year-old from Rye in Sussex and now based in St Andrews, victory in the final of that R&A event was improbable on two counts.
Firstly, going into the championship, he was short on confidence as a result of four years of back problems and the golfer harboured serious doubts about his future in the game.
Secondly, having then played superbly to reach the final, he found himself seven down to compatriot Monty Scowsill after 18 holes of the 36-hole match and was staring defeat in the face.
Yet Shepherd fought back from the morning calamity and, despite still being four down with four holes to play, levelled the match on the final green.
Victory at the second play-off hole left him feeling both joyous and ill as a result of the pressure he’d faced in a dramatic day’s play.
Now, though, Shepherd is gearing up to enjoy one of the spoils of that victory – a place at the Masters.
Gone are the injury concerns and also fading into the background are the days spent sorting out grocery orders for callers to a Tesco hotline.
“I won’t be talking about people’s missing eggs and milk,” joked Laird on the latest edition of the England Golf podcast.
And what about those butterflies?
“I feel ok at the moment – by the Thursday they’ll pretty large!”
Immediately after winning the amateur last year, Shepherd was plunged straight into preparations for the 149th Open at Royal St George’s.
He’s had longer to ponder his Masters debut and now can’t wait to get going.
“It’ll be a pretty cool experience,” he added.
“It’s been strange – for the Open I only had two and half weeks to think about it.
“I’ve had nine months to dwell on it. But you have to do your best not to build it up too much. It is just another week of golf. My life doesn’t end after the 11th of April and that’s how I try to look at it.”
These are wise words from a player who has had to contend with the thought that he might never get to this stage in his golf career.
Those back problems which plagued him from March 2017 to January 2021 left him worried and makes tournaments such as the Masters all the sweeter.
“There were eight or nine times during that period where I had multiple months without touching a club because I was struggling physically and couldn’t work out what to do,” confessed Shepherd.
“To go from that to win the biggest amateur event was not a gradual progression, but I’ll take it.”
But what about that final against Scowsill? Seven down at lunch and facing a sharp exit?
“At that point, I’m thinking about the drive home,” said Shepherd honestly.
“People around me weren’t thinking like that – they were saying it was all still to play for but I’m not sure even they believed it.
“If you win a few holes your outlook completely changes. Then it was a blur from 13 onwards.
“You’ve invested so much time that week to get into that position and are aware of all the prizes and perks of winning as opposed to not winning.
“You do feel as if your life is on the line. I went into survival mode. After I finished, I felt pretty unwell after being in that zone for so long. It was a wild day and I’ll never forget it.”
But that’s in the history book and new chapters are waiting to be written on the lush fairways and slick greens of Augusta.
“If you’re going to be successful you can’t go in with a tourist hat on, looking around and paying too much attention,” added Shepherd.
“A lot of people have successful careers and never play the Masters. I’ll be doing my best to keep my head and eyes up and trying to take it in.
“I was fortunate enough to go to Augusta in January and it’s no exaggeration to say, on every single hole I remember a shot from watching on TV – so many iconic moments.
“I remember watching Amen Corner on TV, Sergio Garcia winning, Danny Willett winning.
“Until you see the holes, I didn’t really understand how well designed they are.
“You think the 12th hole is a short shot but the way the green is angled and how it’s placed for right-handed players, it’s a difficult shot and there’s been a lot of disasters.
“But it is just a nine-iron and the beauty is that it asks a lot of questions. It is a great golf course – no other way to describe it.
“Having played at my level you wonder how the best players in the world would score or go about playing a hole. I won’t have to wonder anymore.
“That’s cool to think you’re there with 80 of the best players in the world.”
Shepherd has already spoken to Joe Long, who played last year’s Masters as an amateur, to get the lowdown. Former US Open champ Webb Simpson, whom he met at last year’s Open, has also promised a practice round.
For Shepherd, the week promises to be a thrill for him and his family with so many exciting things on the horizon.
“It’s hard to put your finger on one thing. The par 3 tournament wil be cool and I’ll get my girlfriend on the bag and in the white jumpsuit!” he added with a laugh.
“I’ve said this to a few people – the best part of winning the Amateur was giving people the chance to join you at the Masters and enjoy that experience with you.
“It’s nice to be able to provide that shared experience for everyone.”