Eighty junior golfers representing 30 U.S. states and one Canadian province have earned an invitation to Augusta National Golf Club to compete in the fifth annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, to be conducted on Sunday, April 1, 2018, prior to the start of the Masters Tournament.
Developed in partnership between the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America and the USGA, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free, nationwide youth golf development initiative open to girls and boys ages 7-15. Participants compete in separate divisions in four age categories – focused on the three fundamental skills employed in golf, tapping the creative and competitive spirit of young golfers.
Results of the 10 regional qualifiers – the third and final stage leading to the 2018 National Finals – yielded twelve returning competitors, including impressive three-time finalists Megha Ganne, Vanessa Borovilos and Treed Huang. Returning finalists are:
- Isabella McCauley (2017 National Finalist), of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
- Megha Ganne (2017 and 2015 National Finalist), of Holmdel, N.J.
- Treed Huang (2014 Boys 7-9 Champion and 2017 National Finalist), of Katy, Texas
- Jackie Feldman (2017 National Finalist), of Austin, Texas
- Sam Udovich (2016 National Finalist), of Inver Grove Heights, Minn.
- Vanessa Borovilos (2016 and 2015 National Finalist), of Toronto
- Jay Nimmo (2016 National Finalist), of Benton, Ky.
- Avery Zweig (2016 National Finalist), of McKinney, Texas
- Pj Maybank (2015 National Finalist), of Cheboygan, Mich.
- Gloria Nip (2015 National Finalist), of Port St. Lucie, Fla.
- Katherine Schuster (2015 National Finalist), Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
- Kasey Maralack (2014 National Finalist), of Snoqualmie, Wash.
Local qualifying for the fifth season began in May, June and July, held at 268 sites throughout the United States. The top-three scorers per venue, in each of the four age categories in separate boys and girls divisions, advanced to 53 subregional qualifiers in July and August. Two juniors in each age and gender division then competed at the regional level in September and October, held at some of the top courses in the country, including several U.S. Open and PGA Championship venues.
The top finisher from each regional site’s age/gender divisions – a total of 80 finalists – earned a place in the National Finals, which will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel. All local, subregional and regional qualifiers were conducted by the 41 Sections of the PGA of America, with PGA Professionals providing support at each facility hosting a qualifier.
Notes from Regional Qualifying:
Katherine Schuster is headed back to the National Finals for the second time, dominating the drive and putt competitions to win the Girls 14-15 division at Pinehurst Resort. “I couldn’t sleep last night, I wanted so badly to win and go back to Augusta,” she said. Hometown competitor Holland Giles, a native of Pinehurst, N.C., won the Boys 12-13 division thanks to victories in the chip and putt competitions. Giles’ father, Ron, is a local PGA Professional who watched his son accomplish the feat.
Cassie Kennon placed within the top three in each skill competition to win the Girls 10-11 division at The Olympic Club as her father and two older brothers – all caddies at hometown Bandon Dunes Golf Resort – looked on. “She’s the best out of all of us,” said her brother, Scotty Kennon. Ian Gilligan stopped all three of his chipping attempts within two feet of the hole, scoring an event-best total of 60 points in the chipping competition and high score of the day, 161, to win the Boys 14-15 division and earn his spot in the National Finals.
Jami Morris first picked up a golf club three years ago. At Muirfield Village Golf Club, she became a National Finalist with a total score of 135 and won in the Girls 14-15 division. “I just love everything about golf, and to be able to go to Augusta is like a dream come true,” Morris said. Jackson Harris tied the boys’ highest score in the chipping competition (55) to win the 10-11 division and punch his ticket for Augusta. “It makes it way more fun to play a lot of different courses [during qualifying],” said Harris. “And now I get to go to the coolest golf course in the world. It’s the best place you can be as a golfer.”
Callia Ward won the Girls 10-11 division at Southern Hills Country Club, finishing with 109 total points, including an impressive 41 points in the chip competition. Ward takes lessons from Dorothy Delasin, former LPGA player and winner of the 1999 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. James li Dintino captured the Boys 12-13 division with a total score of 121. He dedicates each round of golf in honor of his mother, Wendy, who introduced him to the game and passed away when he was 5 years old.
With a trip to Augusta on the line, Carla Kay Hickam made a 15-point chip on her final shot of the day to win the Girls 14-15 division at The Honors Course. “My dad is the reason I won today,” she said after the competition. “He’s always pushed me to work hard.” Best friends Thaxton Cheyne and Patmon Malcom will make the trip of a lifetime together as each qualified with wins in the Boys 7-9 division and Boys 10-11 division, respectively. The two National Finalists often practice together for up to two hours each day.
Isabella McCauley scored a division-high 54 points in the drive competition to win the Girls 14-15 division at Interlachen Country Club and qualify for her second consecutive National Finals. “I was shaking at the tee, but I trusted my game and hit really great drives,” she said. After finishing runner-up at the regional qualifier on three previous tries, Andrew Ramos is Augusta-bound for the first time after a win in the Boys 12-13 division. “I was a bit nervous,” he said. “I’m happy to bring my family and my brother to Augusta.”
Anna Fang qualified for her first National Finals by winning the Girls 7-9 division at Torrey Pines, boosted by a division-high score of 29 in the drive competition. “I’m feeling really excited to go to Augusta because I get to see all the famous players,” said the 8-year-old. Kai Hirayama dedicated four hours of practice each day in the hopes of reaching Augusta National after several attempts to qualify for the National Finals came up short. His hard work paid off, as the sixth grader topped his division in all three skillsets to win the Boys 10-11 division.
Another trip down Magnolia Lane is in the cards for Vanessa Borovilos and Megha Ganne after wins in the Girls 10-11 and Girls 14-15 divisions, respectively, at Winged Foot Golf Club. Both girls will be making their third appearance in the National Finals. “The excitement level goes up after the first time,” said Ganne. Landon Kelly mastered Winged Foot’s greens tying the high score in all divisions with 65 points in the putting competition to win the Boys 7-9 division. Good golf runs in the family, as Kelly learned the game from his mother, Shana – a PGA professional – and his sister, Nyah, who participated in the 2014 National Finals.
Raylee Bosley picked a great time to score her first golf victory. The 8-year-old scored 106 total points to win the Girls 7-9 division at The Club at Carlton Woods. She dedicated the win to her grandmother, Alice Dennis, who is battling glioblastoma. Treed Huang will return to Augusta National as a National Finalist for the third time, winning the Boys 12-13 division with the largest margin of victory of all finalists of the day (25). “Going to Augusta National never gets old,” he said. “Everything is special.”
Loralie Cowart signed up for her first Drive, Chip and Putt competition this year and, after a strong performance at TPC Sawgrass, won the Girls 14-15 division. The Winston, Ga., native lives four hours from Augusta and will be making the trip to Augusta National the first time. “If I don’t win in Augusta, it’s okay – it’s just an honor that I got there,” she said. Originally from Beijing, China, Dazhou “David” Wu moved to America almost a year ago and has long dreamed of playing golf at Augusta National. After winning the Boys 12-13 division, he’ll have his chance. “I want to play [golf] in the Olympics one day for China,” he said. “This is the first step.”
All championship scoring at the local, subregional and regional qualifiers is based on a 25-point-per-shot basis, with each participant taking three shots per skill. Each participant accumulated points per shot in all three skills (maximum of 75 points per skill = 25 points per shot x 3). The overall champion in each age category was determined by the participant with the most points accumulated between all three skills (maximum of 225 points = 75 points per skill x 3).
For each skill, the point system is based in incremental distance measurements, rewarding accuracy and distance in the drive skill, and proximity for chipping and putting skills. Difficulty increases with age.
At the National Finals, one champion will be named from each age/gender division. Each finalist will be scored based on a 30-point system, offering the player with the longest drive 10 points, the player with the closest cumulative chips 10 points and the player with the nearest cumulative putts 10 points, in each separate skill. The highest total composite score will determine the winner.