Wednesday, February 21

Michigan State’s James Piot heads to Masters knowing he belongs

EAST LANSING – James Piot’s whirlwind last eight months have seen him raising one of golf’s most iconic trophies, playing rounds with some of golf’s most famous faces, throwing out a first pitch at Comerica Park and making his PGA Tour debut.

Now, his journey takes him to one of golf’s iconic courses and tournaments.

Piot, the Michigan State senior golfer and Canton native, will tee it up in the Masters this week at Augusta National Golf Club.

“It’s tough to put into words how it feels to be playing in the Masters,” Piot said. “I try not to think too much about it. I’m just kind of focused on the moment.”

Piot earned his spot in the Masters by winning the U.S. Amateur last August, when he came back from three holes down with nine to play in a dramatic championship match win.

This week will mark the first of three majors he’s eligible to play in this year, along with the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

The second two of those majors will come after the college golf season ends. For now, Piot has one foot in major championship golf and one foot in regular-season college golf; Michigan State is scheduled to play at Penn State a week after the masters.

“Not too many college kids get to say they do that,” Piot said.

Piot planned to complete his fifth of five allotted practice rounds at Augusta last week. In getting to walk the famous golf course over the past few months, Piot said he learned there were some key differences from watching on television year after year.

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“You don’t see the elevation out there on TV,” Piot said. “That’s the big thing for me, just walking up the hills. It’s a long walk. But when you’re out there, you’re just on holy ground as a golfer.”

When he arrived on Sunday, Piot planned to move into the Crow’s Nest, the famed second floor of the Augusta National clubhouse that traditionally houses the tournament’s amateur participants, on Sunday night.

On Thursday, he’ll be teeing it up alongside the likes of Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama (and perhaps even Tiger Woods).

Piot already played alongside several of those players this spring when he made his PGA Tour debut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando, another exemption he received as U.S. Amateur champ. Piot shot 78-78 in the event to miss the cut by nine shots but said he still left encouraged by the experience at a premiere event on the PGA Tour schedule.

“It was great prep, in my eyes,” Piot said. “Obviously I didn’t get the results I wanted out of the event, but just the emotions of going through the first tee shot, playing in front of such a large group and being next to golf’s greats, that was a good prep for me.”

More than the overall result, Piot said he hit shots that left him knowing that he’s capable of holding his own in a PGA Tour field.

The Masters will be a step up from the Arnold Palmer, to be sure. But Piot will still step onto the first tee box on Thursday knowing that he belongs.

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“It gave me a sense of belonging there,” Piot said of playing in the Arnold Palmer. “I’ve just got to get that in my head. I tell people you’ve got to say ‘I belong here, I’m good enough to do it.’ That’s what’s going to be the mentality for me going into Augusta.”

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