THE WOODLANDS, TX – Jon Wilson swore his heart was about to jump out of his chest Sunday morning. He was one bundle of nerves.
And he didn’t even have to hit a shot.
His 14-year-old son Drew did. Three more shots to be exact.
After tying at the end of regulation for the Boys 14-15 title, Drew faced a sudden-death playoff – one drive, one chip and one putt on a humid Sunday morning at the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier at The Club at Carlton Woods, with the winner going on to Augusta next spring.
Jon laughed. “These things are harder on the parents, I think.’’
By then, it was smiles all around.
After his opponent, Thomas Pickett, chipped in on the second playoff shot, Drew stepped up, rolled in the winning putt and, well, he was the first player in this regional field to grab a spot in the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on April 1, the Sunday before the Masters Tournament.
It made the family’s 11-hour drive from Potts Camp, Miss. – a small town with no stop light located between Tupelo and Memphis – so very worth it.
“It’s very exciting,’’ Drew said. “I can’t wait.”
He was hardly alone. Drew, who won his club championship – not the junior championship, but the full club championship – at Kirkwood National Golf Club in Holly Springs, Miss., earlier this year was one of three Drive, Chip and Putt National Finalists who needed a playoff to qualify for the 2018 event. The three playoffs were a regional record.
Drew had just accepted his award when Jackie Feldman of Austin, Tex., defended her 2016 regional title with a playoff win. She dominated the playoff, despite having very little practice time at Carlton Woods.
The freshman from Westlake High School competed in her first high school event Friday and Saturday in San Antonio, and she had just about 30 minutes of practice on the greens late Saturday night.
“When we went into a playoff, I just told myself to try my best – that’s all I could do,” she said. “I’ve had a chance to compete once at the Masters and, if I could go a second time, it would be a blessing.”
And it is. Last year, Austin’s Tom Kite made a special presentation to her, which was as special as those first putts she hit on Augusta National's 18th green and getting to eat in the Trophy Room in the Clubhouse after the 2016 finals.
Treed Huang from Katy, Tex., is headed back to the Masters for his third Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. The seventh grader at Beckendorff Junior High won the 2014 finals at age 9 and competed last year, finishing fourth.
“It’s just amazing,” he said. “Going to Augusta National never gets old. Everything is special. What struck me is how beautiful the course is.”
His only low moment Sunday? He pulled his first drive of the day way left. “It was disappointing,” he said.
Everything else went off like clockwork.
Houston’s Allyn Stephens had one of those perfect days too, as she dominated the Girls 12-13 competition. The daughter of former Houston Rockets forward and current Justice of the Peace Joe Stephens had an incredible smile on her face, but, honestly, her road the past month was anything but smiles.
Like so many in the Houston area, the Stephens’ home was flooded and they are in a rental. They left for Dallas at 6 a.m., the morning before Hurricane Harvey hit and returned to 4 feet of water in their home.
“I’m a lot better off than so many people,” she said. “I have a house, I have my clothes.”
The widespread devastation caused this regional to be delayed from Sept. 17, which worked in Stephens’ favor.
Once the waters receded, Allyn, who only started playing four years ago, was happy to get back to working on her game at the Golf Club of Houston, site of the Houston Open. Now, she’s heading to the Masters.
“I wanted to see Pinehurst and Augusta,” she said. “Those were the top two. My childhood dream.”
She saw Pinehurst earlier this year when she played in an event there.
Abilene’s Wyatt Nickson is looking forward to meeting Phil Mickelson next month, and they might just exchange style tips. While Mickelson is known for his tailored pants, Nickson, who won the Boys 10-11 category, is known for his high socks.
Sunday, he wore his Abraham Lincoln socks to earn his spot in the finals. Why Abe? No reason. He has a drawer full of crazy socks.
The final playoff of the day went to Danica Lundgren, who admitted to being a little nervous in extra play. But she had been working on her speed putts and it came down to just that. “I had a lot of confidence in my putting because I knew the speed,” she said. “I just had to get it up the hill.”
The final two divisions of the day – 7-9 Boys and Girls – went to Dylan Knox of Dallas and Raylee Bosley of Friendswood, Tex.
Bosley’s win was extra special because it was her grandmother’s birthday and her grandmother, who is battling glioblastoma, was there to cheer her on.
Knox’s mother Jennifer played golf at the University of Texas in the mid-1990s, and he’s got a good friend in PGA Tour player Bryson DeChambeau, who had Knox walk inside the ropes with him at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship earlier this year.