Golf’s global nature was on display at the Drive, Chip and Putt regional at TPC Boston, most notably through National Finalist Aarya Tsarong and her father Tenzin’s heartwarming story.
NORTON, Mass. – To entice his daughter Aarya to consider the joy that playing golf can bring, Tenzin Tsarong would often show her “The Short Game,” a documentary that followed a group of 7- and 8-year-old golfers at the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship.
Tenzin’s own life story is a testament to his claims that golf is “truly a global game,”. A Tibetan born in India, Tenzin Tsarong carries a New Zealand passport, has American citizenship, lived for years in Oman and Morocco, where he polished his golf game, and settled in Newton, Mass., in 2020 after a short stay in New York.
When Tenzin was asked how he could be from Tibet if he were born in India, Aarya interjected. “Where you’re from doesn’t have to be where you’re born,”. The 9-year-old is wise beyond her years and truly embraces the family ties that are at work here.
Her great-grandfather’s younger brother, you see, is the 14th Dalai Lama.
A look of amazement was thrown Aarya’s way, and the young lady who had just earned a trip to Augusta National next April by winning the Girls 10-11 age group in the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier at TPC Boston flashed a wonderful smile. That’s right, said the great-grandniece of the Dalai Lama, “I was born for this.”
Even Tenzin Tsarong laughed heartily. But it was saturated in pride because Aarya holds dear to principles that are at the heart of the Dalai Lama’s teachings. Compassion. Tolerance. Kindness.
On a day that started with a sense of relief, given that Hurricane Lee had stayed well out to sea and spared Drive, Chip and Putt contestants a frightening wind and pelting rain, what shined through was not the sun but the confirmation of Tenzin Tsarong’s words: “Golf is played in so many places. It brings so much pleasure.”
Before Aarya, a proud daughter of Tibet who now calls Newton, Mass., home, had the winner’s medal draped over her neck, Koreans Victoria Kim and Isaac Lee had earned trips to Augusta National in the Girls and Boys 7-9 divisions . A young man from Canada and a 14-year-old girl who prides herself on her Laos heritage would also win, as would three young Americans.
“A beautiful game,” said Tenzin, who laughed softly while pointing to his daughter. She had not won any of the three skills, but consistency (fifth in driving, third in chipping, second in putting) had earned her a coveted trip to the National Finals at Augusta National next April, “yet Aarya didn’t even like golf at the beginning.”
Her mind changed the day she looked out a bedroom window to see her father giving Aarya’s best friend golf lessons. Tenzin taught himself the game of golf and his resume includes not only a starring role in the 1997 Martin Scorcese film “Kundun” but victories in both the Muscat Open and Oman National Golf Championship in 2018. While those accomplishments didn’t put him into the Official World Golf Ranking database, they indicate his passion for the game.
Golf is played in so many places. It brings so much pleasure.
So on that day just a few years ago when Tenzin was helping a young Japanese girl hit golf balls, Aarya watched intently and decided she wanted in on the fun.
Many viewings of “The Short Game” followed, as did lessons with Seul-Ki Hawley, a teaching professional up at Winchester Country Club in Winchester, Mass., and tournaments with U.S. Kids Golf, the New England Section of the PGA of America and Mass Golf, the state golf association for Massachusetts.
What has shined through is a natural talent for the game, but that has never overtaken his daughter’s gift of curiosity.
“Her mother (Tashi) is also Tibetan and we speak Tibetan. Aarya understands it but doesn’t speak it. She does know about the history of Tibet (China annexed Tibet in the late 1940s, early 1950s, sending the 14th Dalai Lama and millions of Tibetans into India where Tenzin was born in 1977) and she is fascinated by Desmond Tutu (of South Africa),” said Tenzin Tsarong.
That worldly and studious side of his daughter, said the father, has helped Aarya stay focused as she embraces the mechanics of the golf swing as well as the swing of emotions the game produces.
“The key was to stay composed today,” she said. “That is what Seul-ki teaches us. Composure.”
Aarya said that plays out even more in a stroke-play tournament. “Nothing good happens when you get angry,” she said. “So it’s nice to make a birdie, but it’s better if you don’t get angry with a bogey.”
Should we credit that to something her beloved Dalai Lama might have said? Perhaps, “Silence is sometimes the best answer.”
About the Finalists
Beginner’s luck? No chance. Not when Drive, Chip and Putt rookie Victoria Kim won two of three skills, driving and putting, and placed fourth in chipping to win the Girls 7-9 age division. It was an impressive display by the 8-year-old from Ridgewood, N.J., who has only been playing golf for two years.
Kim pretty much cemented her trip to the National Finals by making a 30-foot putt, but what made Saturday a perfect day was getting a big hug from fellow competitor and good friend Ava Chen of Brooklyn, N.Y., who finished seventh in the age group. “Can we have lunch together?” Kim asked Chen. Naturally, Kim’s mother said yes. As if she could have said no to the young girl who had just earned the family a trip to Augusta National.
Applying a blueprint that has been successful for many a Drive, Chip, and Putt competitor, Isaac Lee of Alpine, N.J., nailed down a win in the Boys 7-9 age group with a consistent slate – third in driving and second in chipping and putting, respectively.
“He’s a practice junkie,” said Sean Song, who runs his own golf academy in Rockleigh, N.J., and made the trip to TPC Boston to watch Lee perform. “His work ethic is his strength.”
Ask Aarya Tsarong, winner of the Girls 10-11 age division, who her golf hero is and be prepared for a surprising answer. It’s not Rose Zhang or Lilia Vu, nor is it Rory McIlroy or Jordan Spieth. It’s 83-year-old Jack Nicklaus.
“He inspires me,” said Tsarong, who has watched the film “Nicklaus: The Making of a Champion.”
Callen Cronin made clean work of the Boys 10-11 division by winning all three skills. The youngster from Haverhill, Mass., plays out of Bradford Country Club and has had a superb summer, winning seven times in nine starts on the New England PGA Junior Tour.
Arguably the closest race came in the Girls 12-13 age group, where Hayden Knapp of Fort Edward, N.Y., edged three-time National Finalist Alexandra Phung by a five-point margin.
“I’ve watched the Masters for years, so it’s a dream to be going there,” said Knapp, the young woman who plays much of her golf at Glens Falls CC.
The victory also puts her into a positive frame of mind as she prepares for two more tournaments later this fall – the Junior PGA National Championship with the Anders Mattson Golf team of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Notah Begay III National Championship in Kinder, La.
Colton Dee certainly owes his win in the Boys 12-13 age group to his mother, Dana.
“She signed me up. I didn’t even know about it,” said the 13-year-old from Kingston, Ontario. Given that there are no qualifiers north of the border, Dee played his way into Augusta National by traveling to two qualifiers in New York and this one south of Boston.
“And it was worth it,” said Dee, who, like a true Canadian kid, was headed to play hockey for the Kingston Gaels in Toronto.
Champa Visetsin, 14, of Sudbury, Mass., will be returning to Augusta National for the National Finals for the third time, thanks to a 125-124 decision in the Girls 14-15 age group. She was second in driving and putting and won the chipping competition.
The motivation might have come from fellow Bay Stater Megan Khang’s first-ever victory on the LPGA a few weeks earlier. “I watched that (on TV) and was so inspired by her because we’re both Laotian,” said Visetsin, who previously qualified for the National Finals in 2021 and 2022.
“I didn’t really expect this to happen today,” said Jackson Jodoin of Bedford, N.H., after he won the Boys 14-15 age division. Why? “Because (on two previous trips to Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers) I missed badly with my driver.”
Count the third time as a charm as Jodoin won the driving discipline and finished second in chipping to earn his trip to Augusta National.