Thursday, April 10, 2014
Eight golfers – four boys and four girls – were crowned as champions in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship held on April 6 at Augusta National Golf Club.
Conducted by in partnership between The Masters Tournament, The PGA of America and the United States Golf Association, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a national golf development initiative for boys and girls, ages 7 to 15.
Approximately 17,000 youngsters had opportunities to qualify in the inaugural event, which began with local qualifying at courses throughout the country. From there, the top finishers advanced to one of 11 regional qualifiers, with the winners in each of the four age divisions earning a trip to Augusta National, site of the annual Masters golf tournament.
“You’ve got three of the greatest organizations in golf,” said Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National. “Collectively, we’re pretty good at organizing things that are golf related. Everybody had a specific role and I was proud of the way it was executed.
“Last night at the welcoming dinner, the feeling in the room was unbelievably powerful and emotional and exciting. I knew if that spilled over to (Sunday), it would be a very special day. These kids are truly remarkable.”
The four female champions were Kelly Xu, 9, of Santa Monica, Calif., (age 7-9); Lucy Li, 11, of Redwood Shores, Calif., (10-11); Natalie Pietromonaco, 13, of Auburn, Calif., (12-13) and Hunter Pate, 14, of Las Vegas. (14-15).
The four male champions were Treed Huang, 9, of Katy, Texas (7-9); Leo Cheng, 11, of Northridge, Calif., (10-11); Bryson Bianco, 13, of Tallahassee, Fla., (12-13); and Patrick Welch, 14, of Providence, R.I. (14-15).
Points were awarded in each individual skill category, with the winner receiving 11 points, second 10, third 9, etc. The player with the most points following all three competitions was declared the overall winner.
In the drive portion, the better of two was used for the score. The drive had to land within a 30-yard-wide boundary. Each golfer then took two chips, with the cumulative distance from the hole totaled to determine the score. Players then moved to the practice green, where they had one putt from 6 and 30 feet before walking to Augusta National’s 18th hole and attempting a 15-footer from the spot and to the same hole location where Adam Scott converted his final-round birdie en route to his playoff victory at the 2013 Masters. The closest cumulative distance from the hole was totaled to determine the score.
Here are the individual age-group results:
Xu got off to a strong start with 10 points in the driving and chipping events and held on for a narrow victory over Raina Ports, 9, of Tucson, Ariz. Xu totaled 24.5 points, 1.5 more than Ports. Alexa Pano, 9, of Lake Worth, Fla., finished third with 22.5 points.
“It was the best day of my life,” said Xu, a fourth-grader at Roosevelt Elementary School.
Li, who made national headlines last summer by becoming the youngest match-player qualifier in U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links history and the youngest to qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur, edged Jacqueline Nguyen, 10, of Houston, by a point (26-25), thanks to winning both the driving and chipping portions of the competition. Li’s second drive traveled 227.2 yards after her first ball failed to stay in bounds.
Meghan Lane, 11, of Wilton, Conn., won the putting event and finished third overall with 23 points.
Thanks to a strong showing in the chipping competition (11 points), Pietromonaco, an eighth-grader at Newcastle Elementary School, edged driving champion Christine Wang, 12, of Houston, 24-23. Ashley Menne, 12, of Surprise, Ariz., shared third with Ashley Gilliam, 12, of Manchester, Tenn.
Pate didn’t win any of the individual competitions, but a pair of 10-point showings in the driving and putting skills enabled the Grant Sawyer Middle School eighth-grader to post 27 points, 1.5 more than Johanna Alberto, 15, of Kingwood, Texas. Alberto, putting last, needed to get inside 2.2 feet to win the title, but watched her putt roll several feet past the hole. Riley Rennell, 15, of Columbia, Tenn.,
Agnes Chu, 14, of Plano, Texas, and Maddy Kokich, 15, of University Place, Wash., shared third with 23 points.
“They had the standings [on the scoreboard], but I wasn’t sure how much I was down by,” said Pate. “I was too nervous [to look].”
Huang, a third-grader at Michael L. Griffin Elementary School who has been playing golf for six years, won the driving competition and then held on for a two-point win over Logan Medcalf, 8, of Lynden, Wash. Huang totaled 27 points to Medcalf’s 25. Medcalf won the chipping portion of the event. Jonathan Honeywell, 9, of North Fayston, Vt., finished third with 22 points.
Cheng, a fifth-grader at Balboa Gifted/High Ability Magnet Elementary School, holed his final putt on the 18th green to win the putting portion and the overall title by three points (30-27) over Bradford Chandler, 11, of Fairfax, Va. Cheng also claimed the chipping portion of the competition. Joshua Ryan, 10, of Norristown, Pa., finished third with 24 points.
At the prize ceremony, Cheng received his award from defending champion Scott.
Bianco, an eighth-grader at the Maclay School, posted a 261-yard drive to win the opening skill and then held off Jack McMullin, 13, of Seattle, 25-24, to win the overall title. McMullin won the chipping event. Caden Christopherson, 13, of Chandler, Ariz., finished third with 23 points.
Welch, an eighth-grader at Nathan Bishop Middle School, saved his best for last, holing the 15-foot putt on the 18th green to a thunderous roar to win the overall competition, 28-25, over Juan Contreras, 15, of Phoenix. Welch opened by winning the driving event. Devin Andrews, 15, of Kirkland, Wash., took third with 24 points.
“It was amazing,” said Welch of the crowd’s reaction. “I just tried to take it inasmuch as I possibly could. I was surprised by how loud it was.”
Registration is now open at www.DriveChipandPutt.com for juniors wishing to participate in the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. The competition is being expanded to allow 50,000 playing opportunities at 250 host sites in June and July. The top three finishers will advance to one of 50 sub-regionals in August, with the top two players in each division qualifying for the regionals slated for 10 sites in September. A total of 80 players – 40 boys and 40 girls – will earn a trip to Augusta National Golf Club for the finals on April 5, 2015.