No Joke, Gordon Sargent Is Headed to the Masters
The NCAA individual champion with the ridiculous ball speeds received a surprise invitation from Augusta National
By Jordan Perez
Gordon Sargent isn’t the most outgoing guy, but when “Augusta National Golf Club” popped up on his caller ID earlier this month, he couldn’t contain his excitement. The conversation was a blur. An invitation to the 2023 Masters? It had to be some kind of cruel joke. Didn’t it? Sargent, a Vanderbilt sophomore, set out to try and unravel the mystery.
He was in such shock, he couldn’t even remember the name of the nice gentleman who had called. A Google search with his father, Seth, quickly uncovered the name of the Augusta National staffer who had reached out. Suspending his own disbelief, Sargent then called his coach at Vanderbilt, Scott Limbaugh. “You sure it’s real?” Limbaugh asked. Says Sargent, “I don’t think he believed me for a couple of days.”
Sargent will in fact play in the 2023 Masters. There are ordinarily six ways for an amateur to play their way into the field: win the U.S. Amateur, British Amateur, U.S. Mid-Amateur, Asia-Pacific Amateur or the Latin America Amateur, or finish runner-up in the U.S. Amateur. Sargent didn’t achieve any of those things, but he is the reigning NCAA individual champion. And how he has been extended a special invitation to the Masters, the first one awarded to an amateur since Aaron Baddeley’s in the wake of his historic win at the 2000 Australian Open.
Although the invitation might have come as a surprise, Augusta National has a history steeped in the amateur game, thanks to co-founder Bobby Jones. For a long time, U.S. Amateur quarterfinalists and members of the Walker Cup and World Amateur Team Championship teams received exemptions. For years, some have maintained that the NCAA champion deserves a spot in the field. And now a long-hitting collegian with the ridiculous ball speeds has plans for the second week in April.
So who is Gordon Sargent, and how did he get here? Any junior can benefit coming from a strong golf lineage, but Seth never set any lofty ambitions for his two sons, Gordon and Thomas. Seth has enjoyed a competitive career in the mid-amateur ranks, having played in the Crump Cup and the George C. Thomas Invitational, among other events, but he has scaled back in recent years. The family has belonged to both the Country Club of Birmingham and Shoal Creek. After playing the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala., Gordon, then 9, took a liking to the sport. By the time he reached the sixth grade, the choice between baseball and golf was an easy one.
Gordon and his future Vanderbilt teammate, Cole Sherwood, first met at the Future Masters. After watching the younger kid hit driver for the first time, Sherwood said, “You hit it really far for your height.”
Sargent didn’t take kindly to Sherwood’s words, but others also saw boundless potential in the undersized kid. “The size of his hands and feet were comically big for a 12- or 13-year-old,” says Michael Wolf, a family friend and a fellow Shoal Creek member. “His dad’s a big guy, so you wondered, ‘Holy cow, how far is this kid going to be able to hit it when he’s 6 feet?’”
Limbaugh had been an assistant at Alabama before he took the Vanderbilt job in 2012, and had bumped into Sargent at various camps. Limbaugh and assistant coach Gator Todd, a notable name in Alabama golf lore, hosted Sargent on a visit during his ninth-grade year.
The player and the coaches hit it off instantly, and Vanderbilt offered everything Seth and Monica Sargent had hoped for. Many parents of elite junior golfers choose to structure their kids’ education plan around golf. Not the Sargents. Gordon maintained a 4.1 GPA while piling up golf accolades at Mountain Brook High School. Plenty of SEC schools courted him, but four years before his graduation, Vanderbilt secured a commitment from the player who would be ranked second in the Class of 2021.
Then came the growth spurt, which started during Sargent’s sophomore year at Mountain Brook. He grew from 5-foot-7 to six feet by the time he arrived at Vanderbilt. And he kept winning. After capturing the state Junior title in 2019, he became the youngest player to win the Alabama State Amateur Championship in 2020, with a record 24-under total. He successfully defended that title in 2021 on the strength of a blistering third-round 62.
Having worked in golf administration for more than 25 years and as the current executive director for the Alabama Golf Association, Andy Priest has seen a slew of talented juniors come through the ranks. Gordon Sargent is rare. “What he’s doing is just not what everybody else is doing,” Priest says. “His off days are the best days for a lot of players.”
The best days include producing ball speeds that average 185 mph. “You hear one shot, close your eyes and the second it leaves his club it’s just different,” Limbaugh says. “It’s undeniably different.” Sargent tops out at 197. Limbaugh recalls a particular debate during a practice round the week of the 2022 NCAA National Championship. Sargent understandably had plenty of conviction in his driver. Limbaugh believed a 3-iron was the wise play off the tee on the par 5. “He stuck to his plan,” Limbaugh says. “And those are things that make you exceptional.”
Days later Sargent survived a four-man playoff and was crowned the national champion. From there, he represented the U.S. at the World Amateur Team Championship and advanced to match play at the U.S. Amateur. At Vanderbilt last fall, he won the individual title at the East Lake Cup, was second at the SEC Match Play Championship, was third at the Ben Hogan Invitational, finished T-6 at the Jones Cup and was seventh at the Frederica Cup. He was at his best in the second round, with a scoring average of 66, including a 62 at the Frederica Cup.
Process all that, and it’s no wonder the low-key kid from Alabama has a coveted invitation to the Masters. “The world’s gonna get to see the Gordon we have known for a very long time,” Priest says.