When 312 of the nation's elite amateur golfers tee it up Monday to vie for the title of U.S. Amateur champion, Columbus' Jimmy Beck will be there, hoping to bring his best to a course not ideally suited for his game.
But Beck has always played against the odds, and succeeded more than he has failed as he has made his way up golf's achievement ladder.
With the pinnacle in sight, Beck's optimism and confidence are tempered and his goals are realistically set.
"My main focus this week is making the match play," said Beck, a rising senior on the Kennesaw State University golf team. "Winning the stroke play (phase) would be nice, but I know my game.
"This course doesn't suit my strength. If I make it to match play, that means I've beat 250 people. So if I make it to match play, anything can happen."
Then the long hitters may find their match in Beck, because his strength is a steady game and an ability not to be intimidated by the long ball of competitors. That's why the three-day practice session at the Atlanta Athletic Club preceding his opening shot focuses on honing his short game -- getting the ball into the hole from around the green in the fewest strokes possible.
"This course is going to be a test of how often I can get the ball up and down around the greens," Beck said. "I'm not going to be hitting it that close to the hole all the time. I will have to rely on the short clubs, and I'm trying to fine-tune those."
Beck is also finding comfort in having his college roommate and friend, Austin Vick, also competing in the Amateur. Both qualified in the 36-hole competition at the Reynolds Plantation course in Eatonton, Ga., July 21-22. Beck tied for first at 136 with Clemson's Blake Kennedy, and Vick was three strokes higher. They were among five qualifiers who earned a berth from that site.
Beck has won many titles over the years. He recalls hitting his first golf shot when he was about 4 years old. By age six he was breaking par on the short course set up for kids; by 13 he broke par 72 from the men's tees for the first time. He won the Junior Masters in Dothan, and is in the record books as a three-time World Champion of U.S. Kids Golf (2000, 2001 and 2004).
He won both individual and team state championships at Columbus High, was named the 2011 Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City Athlete of the Year and won a golf scholarship to Kennesaw State, where Owls Coach Jay Moseley labeled him "a pure joy to coach" and a young man who "leads by example."
In July 2013, Beck won the Georgia Amateur at his college's home course, Pinetree Country Club, shooting a two-under-par 69 to come from two strokes back in the final round.
The plaudits haven't stopped. Beck on Jan. 18 was one of a trio of Georgia golfers crowned Player of the Year by the Georgia State Golf Association, sharing that honor with Cameron Hooper of Atlanta and Jeff Knox of Augusta.
In his most recent competition, Beck finished second in the Tilted Kilt Georgia Open, a Georgia PGA event also held at Pinetree Country Club. He was low amateur in the event, recording a 5-under-par 67 last Sunday for a 12-under-par tournament total -- the best finish by an amateur in the 25-year history of the event. He was seven strokes behind the winner.
Beck said competition is something he has always looked forward to in golf. "I always liked playing in tournaments - seeing how well I'm playing. It's exciting to go to tournaments," he said.
But there's no doubt where his motivation has come from and who he credits with his love of golf and the skills he has developed. There's a clue in his answer when asked who would play with him in his dream foursome.
"Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus -- and my dad," Beck said. "I grew up with my dad and golf. He introduced me to the game and taught me everything I know now."
Golfers throughout Columbus, and particularly at the city's Bull Creek Golf Course, witnessed firsthand the duo's devotion to the game. Rare were the days when father and son were not hitting balls, practicing chipping and putting, or on the course playing. As a small child, Jimmy Beck played the "kids' course" -- teeing up at the 150- or 200-yard markers on the par 4 and par 5 holes -- and playing every shot to the end.
"My dad -- he's the one who spent years and all the time with me practicing. He's always been there for me," Beck said.
And he'll be there for his son at the U.S. Amateur, although he won't make the opening day on Monday. When Beck tees it up on the second day of stroke play, however, his dad will be behind the ropes, watching every shot.
"Hopefully, I can make it to match play," Beck said. "Then -- well, anything can happen."
2014 U.S. Amateur
Atlanta Athletic Club, Johns Creek, Ga.
Highlands Course, Par 71 - 7,490 yards
Monday-Tuesday - Two rounds stroke play qualifying, 64 of 312 advance
Wednesday - First round match play
Thursday - Second, third round match play
Friday - Quarterfinal round
Saturday - Semifinal round
Sunday - Championship match (36 holes)
TELEVISION: Golf Channel and NBC (10 hours)