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Kaufman makes up for missed Masters trip -- and then some

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SVP previews The Masters (1:53)

Scott Van Pelt gives his take on what to expect from this year's Masters. (1:53)

I first wrote about Smylie Kaufman back in 2007. Nine long years ago.

Back then, he was a kid who saw golf as a way to help others, way before life led him to the PGA Tour.

Smylie and his younger brother Luckie -- those are family names, passed down by previous generations -- knew of some children in their Birmingham, Alabama, neighborhood stricken with various forms of cancer. So they started a charity called Kids vs. Cancer, with all proceeds benefitting the American Cancer Society.

With help from their mother, Pam, the boys wrote letters and knocked on doors to raise donations for the cause. In a single day, they played 100 holes of golf, from sunrise to sunset, at their home course, Shoal Creek, raising $18,000.

As a reward, the club's owner invited the Kaufman boys to join a group of junior golfers on a trip to Augusta National Golf Club to watch a practice round at the Masters. Luckie jumped at the opportunity. Smylie, then 15 and a high school freshman, had to decline.

"I'd been playing a lot of golf and missing some school, so I decided I couldn't miss any more," the 24-year-old says now. "That was the dumbest thing ever. I should have gone."

The boys kept up their charitable efforts for the next few years, adding friends and altering the golf format but always raising money. In three years, they'd collected right around $60,000 in donations to fight cancer.

Meanwhile, the boys not only kept playing golf, they kept improving -- especially Smylie, who played collegiately at LSU, turned professional upon graduation and last year graduated to full-time PGA Tour membership.

It has been nine years since that first marathon day of golf and the time he decided to forgo a trip to the Masters.

He won't miss it this time around.

As winner of this season's Shriners Hospitals for Children Open with a final-round 61, the PGA Tour rookie received all of the usual perks that come along with a victory: A two-year exemption, a seven-figure check and, yes, an invitation into this year's Masters field.

Smylie insists it was the Masters berth that first came to mind in the moments directly afterward.

"I think it was in my interview," he recalled with a laugh. "I was, like, 'I'm going to the Masters. This is going to be so cool.' "

Even though it was his win that will get him to Augusta, he has proven he isn't some one-hit wonder.

In addition to the title in Las Vegas, Kaufman owns a half-dozen other top-25 finishes in only 13 starts. He's hoping those experiences will prepare him for the experience of being inside the ropes at the year's first major.

"I think that Monday, I'll be a little maybe not shell-shocked, but in the moment," he said. "I think the whole year has been that way. I've kind of gotten over the wow factor of playing in a big event or playing with these players."

He also has gotten over going to school instead of the Masters.

Nine years ago, Luckie returned home from his Augusta trip with a camera full of blurry images of players and scenery from the course and not a single souvenir for the brother who'd helped him earn the trip.

"I get to bring him back," Smylie said. "He can come on my ticket now."

Now a senior finance major at LSU, where they lived together for two years, Luckie will indeed attend the festivities -- and he'll have a little more personal investment than nine years ago.

"It's insane; it hasn't really sunk in yet," he said. "I might be more nervous than he is."

They're not kids anymore, but their days of raising money to fight cancer aren't over. Smylie maintains that once his whirlwind rookie season slows down a bit, he'd like to find a way to use his status as a PGA Tour member to further his charitable efforts.

As for the Masters, the trip he once passed up as a teenager and now gets to take as a competitor in the field, Smylie sounds just like every other elite player going after the green jacket.

"I'm going there," he said matter-of-factly, "trying to win a golf tournament."