Repeat competitors found plenty of success at the fifth annual Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals.
Experience often is a valuable teacher, much to the delight of some of the participants in last year’s Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Three of the eight 2018 champions had competed in the event in prior years.
Conducted by the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America and the USGA, the championship is a free, nationwide youth golf development program for boys and girls, ages 7-15, in four age categories. Tens of thousands of youths compete in the annual event, which began in 2014. The field is narrowed down to 80 competitors who earn a trip to the finals, which are held each year at Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday preceding the Masters.
“All of us at Augusta National are focused on the future of golf, and this event remains one of the most meaningful endeavors in the history of our club,” said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament. “Our goal here is to inspire a lifelong passion for the game of golf, and if our participation helps, then we’ve accomplished our mission. I would like to say how inspired we all are by each and every one of these kids, and I’m pretty confident that the game of golf has a great future.”
The third time was the charm for Vanessa Borovilos of Toronto, Ontario. The winner of the Girls 10 – 11 division also competed in the Girls 7 – 9 division of the Drive Chip and Putt finals in 2015 and 2016, finishing in fourth and fifth place, respectively.
“I’ve tried a lot of times (to win Drive, Chip and Putt), and (last) year I just practiced more and I think that helped me,” said Vanessa, who was lifted off her feet by former Masters champion Gary Player during the trophy presentation ceremony.
On her second trip to the Drive, Chip and Putt finals, Katherine Schuster of Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina won the Girls 14 – 15 division. She finished in third place in the 2015 national finals in the Girls 10 – 11 division and was a medalist in putting.
“There are no words to describe it. I am so excited,” she said. “I definitely felt more comfortable around the greens (this year), and I was able to sink the 30-footer, which really put a smile on my face.”
Cheboyogan, Michigan’s PJ Maybank III, who competed in the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals in the Boys 7 – 9 division, drew on his experience to win the Boys 12 -13 division. “I knew what to expect. I knew which way the putts would break and how the chip would roll out,” he said.
He had to hold off a late rally by Conrad Chisman of Stanwood, Washington. Chisman became the first finalist in the history of the competition to make both putts on the 18th green.
Brendan Valdes of Orlando, Florida, who claimed the Boys 14 -15 division title, felt a surge of pride when he saw his name go up on the leader board with those of the other winners. “That’s where all the leaders have been, and it’s where Sergio Garcia was (in 2017). It’s just insane that I am up there,” said Brendan, who defeated Joshua Lavely of Kewadin, Michigan in a playoff for the victory.
The other female champions were Ella June Hannant of Pikeville, North Carolina (ages 7 – 9) and Sara Im of Duluth, Georgia (ages 12 – 13). The other male winners were Taighan Chea of Bothell, Washington (ages 7 – 9) and Tip Price of Greenville, South Carolina (ages 10 – 11).
This year’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will be held at Augusta National on Sunday, April 7. Registration for the 2019 championship is underway at drivechipandputt.com, and local qualifiers begin in May.
By Betsy Gilliland
Photos courtesy of Augusta National Golf Club