Michael Bruce was hitting the ball just fine Saturday on the practice range at The River Club in preparation for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, but the warm sunshine meant it would have been a good time regardless of the quality of his shots.
Bruce, competing in the Boys 7-9 division, lives in Fort Fairfield, Maine, near the Canadian border, and a long, snowy winter caused his only golf in months to be indoors.
“He works out down cellar with his dad,” said Bruce’s grandfather, Michael McDonald. “There’s a putting green and a chipping mat, and he goes to a simulator a couple of days a week.”
Like many of the Drive, Chip and Putt participants, Bruce, 9, has a supportive rooting section of family members with him in Augusta—mom and dad, two grandfathers, an uncle and his older brother, Carter, 17.
“T his is just awesome,” McDonald said. “It’s more fun for us to watch these little kids than the touring pros.”
The Bruce family joined the rest of the participants Saturday evening in downtown Augusta for a welcome reception and dinner.
“It’s really been fun,” said Michael. “I’ll be really nervous in the morning, and I’ll be really excited.”
The excitement isn’t limited to the kids. “It’s been great,” said Bradley Coyle, whose son Luke, is in the Boys 12-13 division. “I think I’ll be more nervous than him in the morning.”
"Every one of you have become part of Augusta National legend.” - Chairman Billy Payne
The participants posed for group shots by the Savannah River, where they were entertained by a magician, “The Jolly Jester.”
Then it was inside for dinner and welcoming remarks.
“All of us recognize that this is actually a culmination of a year-round journey for these passionate and dedicated young golfers and your families,” said USGA president Diana Murphy. “We couldn’t be more delighted to have you here. What started as an idea based around skills competition has truly blossomed in the most impactful ways to welcome young golfers into the game and to showcase all of your talents.”
Augusta National and Masters chairman Billy Payne invoked the names of Bobby Jones, Arnold Palmer, Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth among those making history at Augusta National as he welcomed the participants.
“And now, just as important, every one of you have become part of Augusta National legend,” Payne said.
“Millions of kids watching will see you and say, ‘I can do that,’ and begin a lifelong affair with the game of golf.”
That describes Chelsea She, a 2017 finalist in the Girls 10-11 division. “Last year we were watching it on Golf Channel and this year she is competing,” said Chelsea’s mother, Jing. “It’s hard to believe. I just want her to have fun and do her best.”
As he waited for the dinner to begin, Gregory Morrison, a member of the USGA executive committee, addressed the mood of the weekend.
“It’s just beautiful,” said Morrison. “My only regret is that they didn’t come up with this idea when we were kids. The kids love it. The parents love it. These are going to be lasting memories they can tell their friends and family for a very long time. This was a great idea.”
Kaeden Nomm, a finalist in the Boys 12-13 division, like Michael Bruce, is coming out of a long winter, in his case, northern Wisconsin.
“He’s got putting holes in the basement,” Nomm’s mother, Lisa, said. “And sometimes he chips off the carpet, much to his mother’s chagrin.”
Sunday, Kaeden would be chipping off a different kind of carpet, the smooth green turf at Augusta National.
“You are in for a fabulous day,” Golf Channel announcer Steve Sands told the dinner audience, “a fabulous experience.”
No one was doubting him.