Eighty Young Stars Ready for Drive, Chip and Putt

Marcus Holling doesn’t remember his first Masters experience. This is no shock given that he was born the day before Phil Mickelson won the Green Jacket on April 11, 2004.

But Holling, now 10 and competing in the Boys 10-11 division of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, did have a connection to Mickelson’s victory. The newborn spent that afternoon sleeping on the chest of his father, John, as he watched the dramatic final round unfold on television.

“I wish I had been awake to see it,” said Marcus, a fifth-grader in Grand Island, Neb., as he paused between practice shots at The River Club in Augusta, Ga.

Mickelson is one of his favorite golfers, but Holling’s orange shirt and orange-headed driver indicated a stronger allegiance to another player.

“I like Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy,” he said, “ but Rickie Fowler is No. 1.”

On Saturday night, Holling and the rest of the 80 Drive, Chip and Putt competitors attended a welcome reception and dinner in downtown Augusta, where the anticipation level was high and contagious to the adults who were present.

“I’m excited, and I don’t even have to hit a shot tomorrow,” said United States Golf Association president Thomas J. O’Toole Jr.

Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, expressed his pride in the accomplishments of the Drive, Chip and Putt finalists. “I truly hope you realize that you have already achieved what millions of others dreamed,” Payne said. “You’re the astronauts who walked on the moon, you’re the pitcher who tossed a no-hitter in the World Series, you’re the golfer who made a hole-in-one on the very first par 3 they ever played. But most importantly, you’re the kids who have been given this unbelievable opportunity because your parents love you, and they have made considerable sacrifices to give you this great opportunity.

Augusta National Chairman Billy Payne speaks with Drive, Chip and Putt participants before a dinner Saturday, April 4, 2015.

“I know it’s hard for some of you to believe,” Payne continued, “but your parents are a lot smarter than you are. They know that effort, dedication and hard work can take you any place that you want to go. They know that life is not just about winning but about trying, whether in golf, school, as a friend, ultimately as a parent yourself, your success in life will be a direct consequence of your effort.”

Derek Sprague, president of the PGA of America, said, “Parents get a good night’s sleep so you can calm your nerves. The kids have it all under control.”

Peyton Blackard, an 8-year-old from Fort Branch, Ind., sure was enjoying the evening, along with chicken fingers and chocolate ice cream, as he sat with his parents. He and his father, Jason, wore matching green shirts to get in a Masters mood.

That Abbey Daniel, 14, of Covington, La., was in the room is a testament to her determination. After breaking her right arm in multiple places and severing an artery 14 months ago, doctors told her she might not be able to play sports again. Abbey defied the odds, though, and returned to golf. She has a 1-handicap.

“This is going to be real exciting being at a course where the tour players play,” said Daniel, looking ahead to Sunday morning’s competition at Augusta National Golf Club.

For Dedham, Mass., 11-year-old Joey Lenane, it is nice to get back into the game after a rough winter in New England that produced record snowfall (108 inches) in the Boston area.

Lenane’s father, Tim, is a Boston police officer and for a half dozen years had worked near the finish line during the Boston Marathon. During the 2013 race, Tim would have been there during the terrorist bombing but was with his son at golf tournament in Florida.

As the Drive, Chip and Putt contestants got a briefing on the competition rules and mingled with fellow competitors, they were also trying to channel their anticipation and energy—which was easier said than done.

“I’m going to try to relax and go out and swing well and get my putts close,” Holling said. “I’ve looked forward to this ever since I won the regional competition and we were driving back home from Kansas City.”

While he competes, he believes his friends back in Nebraska will be watching.

“They said they’ll be watching,” Marcus said. “They said they were going to set their alarm clocks.”

One thing is certain: Marcus will be wide awake, building memories to last a lifetime.