By Vartan Kupelian
The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship competition is what happens when purpose, devotion and effort converge.
A movement is created that embraces people and places, and amplifies the outcome. That’s the DCP. In three short years, it has become a signature initiative in introducing young people to golf.
To say it has been a remarkable achievement is putting it mildly. To say it has resonated among the young people touched by DCP and in the process energized adults, local courses and national organizations is equally in tune with the reality.
The 2016 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals will be held Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club. For boys and girls, ages 7-15, it is fun, free – and riveting in its appeal. It is also a memory from their youth that won’t easily be forgotten. The joint effort of the United States Golf Association (USGA), Masters Tournament and the PGA of America, the DCP has soared in the consciousness of golfers and golf facilities throughout the country.
“Every single week, I run into these 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-, 12-year-old kids and their eyes are as big as apples and they are talking about the Drive, Chip and Putt,” said Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee. “It doesn't stop all year long. It's done nothing but brought great attention to that aspect of the game, and I think increased the interest and competitive desire of the budding superstars out there.”
In its first year, Drive, Chip and Putt was relatively modest in scope by design. Today, it is in all 50 states with competition through May, June, July and August. Boys and girls compete across separate divisions in four age categories, with scoring centered around golf’s three fundamental skills – driving, chipping and putting. Top performers at the local level advance through sub-regional and regional qualifiers in July, August and September.
Eighty finalists – 40 boys and 40 girls – are invited to the National Finals at Augusta National to compete on the Sunday before the Masters Tournament. Sunday’s field includes players from 30 states and Canada. Seven players return from either 2014 or 2015 and 64 of the 80 are first-time visitors to Augusta National.
What happens on Sunday is endearing and triumphant.
“The joy of success on a child’s face after making a great chip shot or sinking a 12-foot putt is why the USGA is actively engaged in this program,” said Tom O’Toole Jr., president of the USGA. “We know success leads to confidence, and confidence leads to a lifelong love of our game.”
The joy isn’t limited to the young golfers. It is widespread, as witnessed by the participation as presenters of past Masters winners, including Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, and a full range of golf dignitaries.
“When you see Adam Scott, you see Bubba Watson go out on the range and not being asked to go out there, just to go out there to see these kids and these kids turn around and see them, I think this was huge,” said Chris DiMarco, runner-up to Tiger Woods at the 2005 Masters.
“That part of it made it exactly the perfect kind of script for the future and for what it's going to be. Now I know guys look forward to it. They get there on Sunday so they can go out and see these kids and cheer them on and congratulate them. Having children that have played golf, it really is an unbelievable thing they are doing and they should be applauded for the efforts they are making. It is opening up doors, and even bringing more people or kids to the game than we've ever seen before.”
Of course, the backdrop for the DCP National Finals is symbolic. It doesn’t get better than Augusta National.
“I give Augusta National all the credit in the world for being proactive in putting something together,” said Notah Begay III, a Native American who played in the Masters three times.
“It's not only served the community but I think it's worked out even better than anybody had anticipated in terms of reaching into all these communities across the United States and getting these kids excited and interested and getting to see one of the most magnificent venues and places that the world has to offer as far as sports is concerned. It's going to change these kids' lives.”
Derek Sprague, president of the PGA of America, echoed the theme of opening doors to golf.
“Drive, Chip and Putt is for every kid, everywhere and every ability to have the opportunity to follow their dream,” Sprague said. “We have seen tremendous growth.”
Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National and the Masters, perfectly summarized the Club’s involvement as host at last year’s Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. His sentiments are worth remembering.
“I think it's our charge simply because this is ‘follow the leader’ around here, and the leaders were Bob Jones and Clifford Roberts,” Payne said. “What they embraced more than anything else was their duty and obligation to give back to the game, and so we feel that same mandate. As long as we have the resources to do it, we're going to try to do it as best we can.”
Gates open Sunday, April 3, at 7 a.m. and Golf Channel's live coverage of the National Finals begins at 9 a.m. For more information about the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, including the official rules, a full listing of qualifying sites and registration information, visit www.DriveChipandPutt.com.