Cade Fort – Evans, GA
The inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship is one of the latest initiatives to attract the next generation to golf.
Every young golfer dreams of sinking a winning putt on the 18th hole of Augusta National Golf Club to win the Masters Tournament. Well, this year 88 boys and girls ages 7 to 15 will have the chance to make that dream-come-true putt at the inaugural Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.
The finals of the nationwide junior skills competition, which was announced at last year’s Masters, will take place Sunday, April 6 – the Sunday before the tournament begins – at Augusta National. The drive and chip finals will be held at the practice facility. The putting competition will recreate some of the famous putts that have won the Masters on Augusta National’s 18th green.
See the full list of Finalists who will be competing in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship final on Sunday, April 6 at Augusta National Golf Club.
Feel the Thrill
“We thought about what would be thrilling and exciting, and we couldn’t help but think, historically, how many of the great golfers, professionals of the world, have visualized making the winning putt on the 18th green to secure their Masters title,” says Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Foundation. “So we thought if we could duplicate that, share it with these kids, it would be both thrilling for them and amazing to watch.”
The Masters Tournament Foundation, a charitable arm of the tournament that invests in golf development programs, is sponsoring the event along with the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America.
“Our collective efforts to promote amateur golf are as critical today as they have ever been in the past. Our game is facing real challenges here in the United States concerning its health, and Drive, Chip and Putt is just one way that we can attract and grow a new generation of players to the game,” says Glen Nager, USGA president.
Jayden, Josh & Savannah Peyton – Blythewood, S.C
Young golfers in four age categories participated in local and regional qualifiers in 19 states and Washington, D.C., last summer to advance to the finals. Boys and girls competed in separate divisions in four age brackets: 7-9 years old, 10-11 years old, 12-13 years old and 14-15 years old.
The top two overall point earners in each of the boys and girls divisions in the local qualifiers advanced to one of 11 regional qualifiers in August. The top finisher in the age/gender categories at each site earned a spot in the final, which will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel.
“The ability to successfully drive, chip and putt a golf ball are some of the basics to the enjoyment of the sport, and we believe this competition will motivate young players to work hard, practice these principle skills and learn to make golf a game of a lifetime,” says Ted Bishop, the PGA of America president.
Kailey Burack – Martinez
Two local qualifiers were held at The First Tee of Augusta in July, and a total of 320 children from multiple states participated in the morning and afternoon sessions.
“We were one of the few locations that had two qualifiers. Some kids in Augusta had to go elsewhere to compete,” says Jill Brown, The First Tee’s executive director.
However, there was plenty of local talent on display. Laine Showman, 11, of Augusta decided to enter the contest because her golf teacher thought it would be a good experience for her. Laine admitted that she was nervous, but her putting quickly calmed her down. “On the first one, I got it in,” she says.
Another competitor, 11-year-old Chancellor Huggins of Augusta, started playing golf when he was 2 years old. “My dad had clubs around the house, and I just start swinging them,” he says. Chancellor started playing competitively about two years ago after he attended the Masters with a group of youths.
Eleven-year-old Palmer Mason, the son of a golf pro, came to the qualifier from Irmo, South Carolina. “My dad found out about it and asked me if I want to enter,” he says. “I said ‘yes’ because I wanted to try to have a chance to play at Augusta National.”
Martinez resident Kailey Burack had been playing golf for about a year before she entered the contest. “I wanted to see how good I was, and it seemed fun,” she says. “I just like trying to hit the ball as far as I can.”
Kailey finished in second place in the girls division for 10- and 11-year-olds to advance to the regional qualifier at Atlanta Athletic Club in Duluth, Georgia. However, her father, Serge, said his top priority was for her to have a good time. “I can see her dimples so she’s smiling,” he said. “This is great for the kids. It’s a great concept.”
Kailey seemed to appreciate having the chance to spend time with her favorite golfer as much as she enjoyed the competition. And just who is her favorite golfer? Her dad, of course.
In another effort to attract new players to the game of golf, the Masters Tournament, the R&A and the United States Golf Association announced the formation of the Latin America Amateur Championship in January. This new amateur golf event is aimed at stimulating growth and inspiring greater interest in the game throughout South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The champion of the inaugural LAAC and all future winners of the event will receive an invitation to compete in the Masters, beginning in 2015. In addition, the winner and the runner-up will be exempt into the final stages of qualifying for the Open Championship and U.S. Open Championship. The champion also will receive full exemptions into the Amateur Championship, U.S. Amateur Championship and any other USGA amateur championship for which he is eligible.
“We believe this event will be motivating to current and future generations of golfers and, one day, create heroes that will inspire others to give the game a try,” says Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters. “This belief has guided us well through the early successes of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and, with the collective expertise in guiding the game of golf provided by the R&A and the USGA, we are hopeful in achieving equally exciting results.”
The inaugural competition will take place January 15-18, 2015, at Pilar Golf, a course that opened in 1992 near Buenos Aires, Argentina. The course has been the site of national championships, including the Argentina Open in 2006 and 2011. The 120-player field will be comprised of the top male amateurs in Latin America.
By Betsy Gilliland
Photography by Michael E. Johnson