DALLAS _ Playing in his first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship local qualifier, Max Rothfeder, 14 years old of Bellaire, Texas, arrived early to work on his game.
The sun had just started to peek through the towering trees lining the Trinity River, unveiling a postcard worthy stage at Keeton Park Golf Course. Early risers chatted as they walked, steam drifting from parents’ coffee cups in the unseasonably cool air.
One of Dallas’ six city courses, Keeton Park is nestled on the lush banks of the river just southeast of downtown. The heavily forested course has played host to this event for three of the past four years.
But the quiet stillness couldn’t calm Rothfeder’s nerves as he rolled putts on the practice green.
“I just started playing golf two years ago,’’ he said. “My dad got me a lesson for my birthday present. A lot of these kids have been playing since they were 3 or 4. I’ve learned that in competitions you have to really focus to make sure you’re not shaky. You have to make sure you stay in your routine.”
The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a joint initiative founded by the PGA of America, USGA and the Masters Tournament for boys and girls ages 7-15.
The top three in each of four age divisions can advance through local to subregional and regional qualifying to earn a place in the National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club the Sunday before the Masters Tournament each year.
“It’s an amazing initiative,” said Mark Harrison, Executive Director / CEO of the Northern Texas PGA. “You see the kids out here, some have been playing for a long time and others are taking their first swings. It’s a great way to create interest in the game and through our Junior Golf Foundation we hopefully have the ways to help them grow it.”
Each golfer had three drives, chips and putts. Players earned points for driving distance and accuracy. Chipping and putting points were determined by proximity to the hole.
The three top overall scorers in each age group advanced to the subregional at Mira Vista Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, on August 13.
Mark Doane traveled with his father five hours from Victoria, 320 miles south of Dallas, to take his fourth and final shot at a possible dream trip to Augusta National Golf Club. An upcoming Boy Scout trip conflicted with local Drive, Chip and Putt Championship qualifiers closer to his home.
“My game has developed a lot because I’ve practiced a lot more on the driving and chipping,” said Doane, who won a blue ribbon for putting last year. “I’d rather play in this competition than practice on the range. It makes you play harder.”
But like many other competitors, he learned a tough lesson about the importance, and difficulty, of consistently executing the three key areas of golf. The strongest part of his game foiled his quest. His weakest link, chipping, provided his highest point total.
“He just made mistakes. I’m still proud of him,” his father, Guy, said. “I know he’s kind of upset because his best skill kind of let him down, but hey, that’s golf.”
Ryan Ko captured a second-place ribbon in the Girls 12-13 age division. After hitting her final drive, she huddled with her younger sister, Addison, giving her tips before the Girls 10-11 session.
Addison scored the most points in the putting and chipping competitions but two errant drives left her status in jeopardy. She sweated out the score tabulations gobbling slices of fruit with Ryan.
In the end, both sisters advanced. Addison edged Emma Rynn by one point to claim the overall title in her group, and Ryan claimed second in hers.
“My short game has improved the most,” said Ryan, who fell one point short of regionals last year. “I can tell my confidence has improved each time. I want to work on my putting. I want to go to Augusta National.”