As Brooke Boardman looked over a 20-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole of a five-person playoff for the last spot in a U.S. Women’s Amateur qualifier at Eagle Bend Golf Course in Lawrence, Kan., on June 27, the 17-year-old Iowan’s mind reverted back to a competition three years earlier.
It was the National Finals of Drive, Chip and Putt at iconic Augusta National Golf Club and a then-incredulous 13-year-old was trying to calm her nerves in front of thousands of spectators and a national TV audience on Golf Channel.
“I was a bit overwhelmed,” said Boardman, looking back on the experience.
Boardman, competing on the national stage for the first time, would finish eighth out of eight competitors in the Girls 12-13 division, but just participating in this grow-the-game competition for juniors from 7-15 years of age and sponsored by the USGA, Masters Tournament and the PGA of America would eventually pay dividends three years later.
On that late-June day in Lawrence, Boardman channeled her nerves to defeat four other U.S. Women’s Amateur hopefuls, converting the long birdie putt and punching her ticket to The Golf Club of Tennessee. Boardman is one of 10 past Drive, Chip and Putt National Finalists in the field, including the medalist from that sectional qualifier, Ashley Gilliam, of Manchester, Tenn.
For Boardman, it wasn’t the first time this year that her improved short-game skills from competing in DCP led to a big prize. In late May, she holed a 33-yard pitch shot for birdie en route to winning the Iowa 4A (largest division) state individual title. Her 11-stroke victory also helped Waukee Community High School to the team title.
“[DCP] definitely made me realize I needed to focus on my short game a lot,” said Boardman, a rising senior who has committed to play for the University of Kansas in 2019. “It gets you the most points for going down to Augusta, but it also pays dividends in your actual game.”
Boardman is just of one of many players who have been inspired by DCP, which began in 2014 as a way to help kids to learn and have fun playing the game while also improving and developing their skills.
Some, like last month’s U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Michael Thorbjornsen, and 2018 USA Curtis Cup competitor Lucy Li, have gone on to have major success in junior and amateur golf. Shortly after Li won the 10-11 division in 2014, she became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women’s Open history.
At last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif., three of the four semifinalists were DCP finalists: Li, Alexa Pano and Gina Kim. All three are in the 118th U.S. Women’s Amateur along with Boardman, Gilliam, Kelly Xu, Kynadie Adams, Avery Zweig, Kayla Sam and Abbey Daniel.
Zweig, 11, of McKinney, Texas, is competing in her third USGA championship of the year (U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and U.S. Girls’ Junior), while Xu, 14, of Claremont, Calif., became the first female champion ever crowned at Augusta National when she won the 7-9 division of the inaugural DCP in 2014.
Boardman took to the game as a 5-year-old when she saw some clubs lying around at a neighbor’s house. Neither of her parents, Pat and Julie, played the game, but once Brooke picked up the club for the first time, she was hooked.
“They expect me to do well, but they just want me to have fun,” said Brooke, whose dad will serve as her caddie in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
For Zweig, competing in a pair of Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals – she tied for third in 2016 (7-9 division) and sixth this past April (10-11 division) – has been a springboard to a burgeoning golf career. Last month, she became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Girls’ Junior history. She’s also the youngest competitor in the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I want to continue on this path, so I’m obviously going to be under pressure in some sort of way,” she said prior to competing in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship in April at El Caballero Country Club in Tarzana, Calif. “It’s good to have the DCP experience under my belt. You know, I could be on the last hole needing to make birdie and that’s a situation where it’s do or die. It’s that same way with DCP.”
But even if a DCP competitor doesn’t reach the same heights in the game as the 10 who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur or the 16 who played in last month’s U.S. Girls’ Junior, Boardman says the skill competition is perfect for anyone who just wants to enjoy the game.
“I would say it’s just a fun experience even if you don’t make it to [Augusta],” said Boardman, who fell just short at the regionals of a return trip in 2016. “It’s still fun to try and see if you want to get into golf more. It’s not stressful.”
Photo and article courtesy of the USGA