If this year’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship participants had their way, the annual Masters Tournament Champions Dinner would offer a menu of steak, pasta, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, a large assortment of cookies, cake and ice cream and Arnold Palmers to wash it all down.
“I would have a vending machine where you could order any drink you want and it would come straight to you,” said Benny Nelson, a Boys 7-9 participant from Los Angeles.
That’s what golfers age 7 to 15 chose as their favorite foods and drinks in advance of Sunday’s sixth Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, a small bit of flavor interspersed with competition that begins at sunup Sunday and concludes in early afternoon. The National Finals will be televised live on Golf Channel Sunday beginning at 8 a.m. In tandem with Saturday’s first Augusta National Women’s Amateur final round – with no competitor older than age 24 – the weekend before the Masters has become a motivational youth movement.
“My full name is Paige Alexandria Radebach, so my initials are PAR,” said Paige Radebach, a Girls 7-9 participant from Webberville, Mich. “I was born to play golf.”
Drive, Chip and Putt participants compete in four age divisions for national championships, accumulating points in three skills: driving distance, and proximity for chipping and putting. The highest total composite score determines the winner.
In 2013, the Masters Tournament joined in a bold initiative with the United States Golf Association and PGA of America that gave a nod to the future, creating the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
The 2019 field includes 80 boys and girls representing 27 U.S. states and Canada. California has the most representatives, seven, and the field includes the first non-North American participant, Paris resident and part-time Florida visitor Ryan Nana Tanke. According to their pre-tournament questionnaires, 58 of the participants will be making their first trip to Augusta National.
There are 15 returning competitors, including four-time finalists Megha Ganne, Treed Huang and Vanessa Borovilos.
Local qualifying for this year’s competition began in May 2018 and was held at 290 sites throughout all 50 states last summer. The top-three scorers per venue, in each of the four age categories in separate boys and girls divisions, advanced to 57 subregional qualifiers in July and August. Two juniors in each age and gender division then competed at the regional level in September, held at some of the top courses in the country, including several U.S. Open and PGA Championship venues.
The top finisher from each regional site’s age/gender divisions earned a place in the National Finals. All local, subregional and regional qualifiers were conducted by the 41 Sections of the PGA of America, with PGA Professionals providing support at each facility hosting a qualifier.