What Happens If an Amateur Wins the Masters?

Augusta Master's 2018
Pete Sheffield / Flickr.com

The Masters (also known as the Masters Tournament or the US Masters) is one of (men’s) golf’s four major tournaments and it has been running since 1934. As one of the most prestigious events in golf (and arguably sport in general), winning the Masters brings much acclaim and indeed fame. The victor is awarded the famous green jacket, the Gold Medal and a replica of the Masters Trophy… oh, and there’s the small matter of a cheque for $3,240,000 (the amount Jon Rahm won in 2023). But what happens in the – albeit unlikely – event of an amateur player winning the US Masters? Would that player still collect the fat cheque, or would they go home empty-handed?

To cut to the chase, we’ll give a short answer first: if an amateur player won the Masters, he wouldn’t get a single cent in prize money! Thought he would be awarded the green jacket, the Gold Medal and the replica Masters Trophy. Also, for finishing the tournament as the top amateur (perhaps confusingly to some, called the ‘Low Amateur), he would be awarded the Silver Cup, which might sell for a pretty penny on eBay, but certainly not for $3 million!

We’ll go into a little more detail about what would happen if an amateur player won the Masters. But first, let’s investigate whether it’s ever actually happened and, if not, how close an amateur has come to triumphing at the US Masters.

Has an Amateur Ever Won the Masters?

Master's golf tournament logoThis is another easy question to answer: no, an amateur player has never won the Masters. As such, asking the question about what would happen if one does, might seem a little unnecessary, but for a good chunk of the 2023 tournament, the question was certainly very pertinent.

This is because 23-year-old amateur, Sam Bennett, was actually sitting pretty at the top of the leaderboard after two rounds and was still very much in contention (tied for third) after the third round. As it happened, he fell away in the all-important final round and ended up tied for 16th (which is still very respectable and was the same position as the likes of Ryder Cup duo Shane Lowry and Justin Rose).

What Was the Highest Finishing Position of an Amateur at the Masters?

Benett’s T16 finish wasn’t the closest an amateur has come to winning the Masters. In fact there have been plenty of amateurs surpassing his effort over the years. And none more so than Ken Venturi, who took the 1956 Masters by storm when still an amateur and was a massive four shots clear of the field heading into the final round. Unfortunately for Venturi, he couldn’t maintain his form and shot a score of 80 (after previous rounds of 66, 69 and 75) to miss out on the major by a single shot from Jack Burke Jr.

Venturi came close again in the 1960 Masters and once again missed out by a single shot (this time to Arnold Palmer). At least by then he’d turned pro, however, so he earned a tidy (in those days) cheque of $10,500. And, he did eventually land himself a major, winning the US Open in 1964.

Two other players have finished tied for second in the Masters: Frank Stranahan in 1947 and Charlie Coe in 1961, the same year as a young amateur called Jack Nicklaus finished in tied seventh before winning the Masters six times in the following 25 years!

Have Amateur Players Won any of the Other Majors?

Tiger Woods PGA Golf Tournament
Craig ONeal / Flickr.com

Like the Masters, no amateur has ever won the US PGA Championship. But unlike the Masters, the US PGA Championship is limited to professionals. The other two majors, the Open Championship (aka The Open) and the US Open, have both had amateur winners in the past. But, by and large, when we say the past, we mean the past!

Amateur Winners of Golf Majors

Year Tournament Player Country Total Score
1890 Open Championship John Ball England 162*
1892 Open Championship Harold Hilton England 305
1897 Open Championship Harold Hilton England 314
1913 US Open Francis Ouimet** United States 304
1915 US Open Jerome Travers United States 297
1916 US Open Chick Evans United States 286
1923 US Open Bobby Jones** United States 296
1926 Open Championship Bobby Jones United States 291
1926 US Open Bobby Jones United States 293
1927 Open Championship Bobby Jones United States 285
1929 US Open Bobby Jones** United States 294
1930 Open Championship Bobby Jones United States 291
1930 US Open Bobby Jones United States 287
1933 US Open Johnny Goodman United States 287

*Tournament was only two rounds, **Tournament was won in a playoff

As you can see, the great Bobby Jones was one hell of a player. Especially in 1930 when he won the US Open, the Open Championship, the US Amateur Championship and the British Amateur Championship, the latter two considered majors of the amateur game. He also helped design Augusta National (which hosts the Masters) and even co-founded the Masters. That is one tournament he never won, however. His highest finish came in the inaugural tournament in 1934 when he finished tied for 13th. As he never turned pro, he never competed in the US PGA Championship.

Who Would Get the Prize Money if an Amateur Won the Masters?

Money golf

So back to the Masters. If an amateur who won the Masters didn’t get the prize money, what would happen to it? Would the USPGA keep it? Would it be given to a charity of the winner’s choosing? Well, no. According to the official Masters website, “The second-place finisher gets the winner’s prize money and it continues from there.” By which we presume they mean, the player who finishes in second place gets the winner’s cheque (but not the one he would have got for finishing second), the player who finishes third gets the second-place prize money, and so on. So, from a financial perspective at least, finishing as the runner-up to an amateur player wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world!

Could An Amateur Who’s in Contention Turn Pro Mid-Tournament?

When Bennett was in such a strong position heading into the final round of the 2023 Masters, there were calls for him to swiftly turn pro to take advantage of any prize money that he might otherwise miss out on. Unfortunately for Bennett (and indeed any other players who enter as amateurs), once your entry to the Masters has been accepted as either a pro or an amateur, you can’t change that status.

Could an Amateur Player Benefit Financially from Winning the Masters?

Of course, even if an amateur has to forfeit their prize money if they went all the way in the Masters, it is likely they would still benefit financially. From 1st January 2022, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (seen as the arbiter of the main rules of golf) relaxed restrictions on amateur players gaining sponsorship deals and advertising revenues.

As such, any amateur player who won the Masters would undoubtedly be able to cash in with various endorsement deals and other opportunities. Whether they would be able to accumulate anything like the amount they would have missed out on in prize money is another matter though.

Does an Amateur Winner Get the Same Rights & Playing Exemptions?

Augusta National
Augusta National (Wikipedia.org)

Winning the Masters brings a whole host of prizes for a pro, including the vast sums of money mentioned. Of course there is also huge prestige and, amateur or pro, a place in the history books of the sport. But victory also earns a professional the right to play in all four majors for the next five years. That is a huge prize both in terms of the honour but also in terms of the substantial prize money that it guarantees – even missing the cut at the 2023 Masters was worth up to $44,280 (dependent on score/finishing position).

However, this exemption is not granted to amateurs, although should they turn pro within that five-year period, they would still be able to play in any remaining majors. Most amateurs who qualify for big events like the Masters these days are on a journey towards professionalism anyway, so would probably be looking to turn pro within a few years regardless of their performance. However, were a non-pro to win it, that would almost certainly hasten their move into the pro ranks, not least to gain access to all the other majors.

As well as those playing rights, Masters winners can also play at every edition of the tournament forever! All Masters champions get invited to the famous Champions’ Dinner each year and can tee it up at the tournament for as long as they choose, though many opt to stop playing as soon as they feel they are no longer truly competitive. The oldest living champion is aforementioned 1956 winner Jack Burke Jr. Needless to say (we think!), at the age of 100 he doesn’t assert his right to play these days! But he could!

The official US Masters site does not make it entirely clear that these playing and champions’ privileges would be granted to an amateur. However, we suspect they would, as any amateur finishing inside the top 12 is definitely invited back to the following year’s tournament, just as they would have been were they a pro. Moreover, they do not state otherwise.

Amateur winners would also definitely earn honorary membership to Augusta National, meaning they can play the famous course anytime. They can also wear their green jacket (kept at the club) whilst they are there. So all in all, whilst missing out on a $3m payday might sting, any amateur who managed to hold their nerve on Sunday at Augusta and win the Masters would still collect a fine package of benefits.

Amateur Players Looked After at Masters

Bobby Jones
Bobby Jones in the 1925 Amateur Final (Wikipedia.org)

As noted, Bobby Jones helped set this famous tournament up and as perhaps the greatest amateur player of all time he wanted to make sure that non-pros were looked after at Augusta. Several top amateurs gain invites each year, including the winners of the British Amateur, Latin-America tournament and other leading events. This means there is always at least a chance that one might gain victory someday.

Additionally, the current US Amateur champ is paired with the defending Masters champion for the opening two days of the tournament. Up to five amateurs can also stay in the Crow’s Nest each year, giving them just about the most convenient accommodation possible for the tournament, totally free of charge. This sizeable “flat”, for want of a better word, is at the top of Augusta’s clubhouse.

Have Amateur’s Won Other Tournaments

Shane Lowry
Shane Lowry (sportsphotographer.eu / Bigstockphoto.com)

As we have seen, an amateur has never triumphed at Augusta up to and including the 2023 championship. They have lifted both the Open Championship and US equivalent though. But with the last victory by a non-pro in either of those coming 90 years ago, when the game was very, very different, let us broaden our search to other pro tournaments and consider whether an amateur has won more recently.

Phil Misses Out on $180,000 But Earns $105m

Back in 1991 a fresh-faced Phil Mickelson rocked up to the Northern Telecom Open in Arizona whilst a junior college student at nearby Arizona State. He probably hoped for a bit of fun and experience that might serve him well in the future. However, despite a triple bogey on the 14th on Sunday that turned a one-shot advantage into a deficit, Lefty rallied with two late birdies to win.

Had he been pro he would have walked away $180,000 richer but as an amateur he left with nothing but pride. He told the press at the time “Money is not a problem. I’m on a scholarship and my folks help me.” Three weeks later he was the low amateur at the Masters and then turned pro in 1992.

Mickelson would go on to make more than $100m in career earnings and an estimated $1bn including sponsorship deals and other incomings. Guess he was right – money wasn’t a problem!

Shane Lowry Lands Home Open But No Payday!

Mickelson was the last player to win an event on the PGA Tour whilst not yet a pro. Prior to that, Scott Verplank won the Western Open in 1985, whilst there were six PGA Tour wins by amateurs between 1945 and 1956. However, in Europe, there has been a big win much more recently, with Shane Lowry landing the Irish Open in 2009.

The man from County Offaly was making his debut on the European Tour as it was then and a second round 62 set him up for the win. However, he fluffed a short putt on the 72nd hole and missed out on outright victory, instead going into a play-off with Robert Rock. He triumphed at the third extra hole to land the winner’s cheque of absolutely nothing!

Instead, the massive €500,000 first prize went to Rock, though Lowry has described his win as a “dream” and a career highlight. He was 22 at the time and played thanks to an invite, stating that his only real aim was to try and make the cut. Instead, he won his home Open and stormed into the official word rankings at 168 – not bad for an amateur!

Lowry was the third such player to land a victory on the European Tour after Danny Lee that same season and Pablo Martin in 2007. Neither of their wins were in anything like as prestigious an event as Lowry’s though. And certainly not quite the US Masters, but who knows, maybe one day we will see a player from the amateur ranks don the green jacket.