Roland, Ark. – The smile on Kylie Fisher’s face said it all. The 8-year-old from Tahlequah, Okla., had just earned her ticket to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club in April 2020, and was soaking in the joy of her win.
“This is my first one. It’s really fun and I am very excited,” said Fisher, who topped the Girls 7-9 division.
Kylie’s father, Randy Fisher, credited a winter practice routine in getting her there.
“We live about an hour from the First Tee of Northwest Arkansas and they have an indoor facility which is phenomenal,” he said. “We joined and enrolled Kylie in two winter classes – that’s been a huge part of her success.”
But there was something else, too. After her initial elation at winning her division, Fisher shyly admitted she really didn’t know anything about Augusta National. Carl Jackson, an interested bystander, wondered if not knowing what she had just accomplished worked to Fisher’s benefit. Jackson, the former caddie manager at the Alotian Club, caddied for Ben Crenshaw at Augusta National for 39 years and was on the bag both times Crenshaw earned the green jacket.
“The fact that she knew nothing about Augusta National was probably a tremendous advantage,” Jackson said of Fisher. “Her nerves today will probably be a lot better than when she gets to Augusta.”
It was a perfect fall day at the Alotian Club, a championship-caliber course near Little Rock that also hosted the 2019 Arnold Palmer Cup and 2013 Western Amateur. Morning temperatures started in the low 60s before reaching a high in the mid 80s with a cool breeze coming off Lake Maumelle. There was barely a cloud in the sky.
Fisher was one of eight golfers – four boys and four girls – to earn an invitation to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals next April. Seven of the eight players will travel to Augusta for the first time.
Porter Hart, of Broken Arrow, Okla., finished second in the drive skill and first in the putting skill to advance as the Boys 7-9 division winner.
“This is really special,” Hart said. “I know the course (Augusta National) is really hilly and the greens are fast.
Karstyn Altese, of Diamondhead, Miss., topped the Girls 10-11 division on the strength of her putting. She won that skill competition and finished second in driving.
“This is amazing, and I am very excited,” she said. “I have been practicing a lot at home working on my tempo and getting the club back to square.”
Finn Burkholder, of The Woodlands, Texas, earned 146 points to win the Boys 12-13 division by one point over Brady Mann of Bridgeport, Texas, in what was the closest competition of the day. The 12-year-old said he knew it was a tight race, but he prevailed to get to Augusta.
Jaivir Pande, of Houston, won or was tied first in all three skills for 174 points, which left him more than 40 points ahead of the second-place finisher in the Boys 14-15 division.
“I’m pretty excited. On a scale of one to 10, probably a 15,” Pande said. “I have watched the Masters a lot on TV.”
Henry Guan, of Irving, Texas, who won all three disciplines and amassed 162 points to win the Boys 10-11 division by more than 30 points, was also very familiar with Augusta National. He also rated his upcoming trip there very highly, if not as off-the-charts high as Pande did.
“One of my dreams has always been to play Augusta National,” Guan said, hardly able to sit still while holding four gold medals – one for each skill and one for the overall. “On a scale of one to 10, qualifying to go there is a 10 for me. I cannot describe the feeling.”
In the Girls 12-13 division, Maye Huang of Katy, Texas, won the drive competition and tied for first in the putting skill to return to the National Finals for the third time.
“This gives me confidence and I know what it’s like if I mess up or something,” she said. Huang was a National Champion in the Girls 7-9 division in 2017 and said she was “really excited to go back.”
Samantha Straight, of Lewisville, Texas, was a runaway winner in the Girls 14-15 division but felt excitement for a different reason.
“I am so excited because I get to go with my parents. They have done so much for me. They introduced me to golf, and it will be a great trip together,” she said, choking back tears.
Straight has been playing golf for less than two years and said she battles anxiety.
“Golf has allowed me to become more confident in myself and to trust and believe in myself.”
That should be especially true as Straight takes her place next spring among the best of junior golf.