Emotion runs high at Baltusrol

By Brendan Prunty

Behind the back porch of Baltusrol Golf Club’s clubhouse, Jodie Sikorski was wiping tears from her eyes. She shook her head over and over, but the tears kept coming. Her son, Trevor, had just won the Boys 7-9 age group in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship regional Saturday in Springfield, N.J. It meant punching a ticket to the national finals next spring at Augusta National Golf Club – home of the Masters Tournament – but at this moment, it meant more.

It meant the realization of a vision her 7-year-old son had the night before.

Jodie knelt in front of Trevor, giving him a tight hug, pulled him away, looked in his eyes and tapped his heart.

“Trevor, Trevor,” she told him. “You knew it. You knew it right here.”

The family made the two-plus hour drive Saturday morning from their home in West Grove, Pa., to northern New Jersey for the chance at something special. Eighty children and their parents arrived at Baltusrol on a picture-perfect early fall morning with eight trips to Augusta National on the line. The weather didn’t look promising at first – overcast skies above, a stiff breeze blowing through a course which had hosted the PGA Championship only two months earlier. But just as players took to their three stations, the clouds parted and the sun splashed out onto the rolling hills of the historic club.

There were boys with pink drivers, just like Bubba Watson. Girls sporting sleeveless shirts with hats pulled low like Lexi Thompson. Swings that emulated Rory McIlroy. Outfits that paid homage to the Sunday threads of Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. Players came from all over – as close as Somerset, N.J., to as far away as Canada. In all, there were seven states represented and eight players from the province of Ontario.

“This is probably the biggest thrill I’ve had in golf,” said Matt Moloney of Vienna, Va., who qualified for the national finals in the Boys 10-11 division. “I’ve never been to Augusta National, so I can’t wait to go.”

Others were also thankful to get the opportunity to for a trip to Augusta National: Austin Liao of Warren, N.J., in Boys 12-13; Ian Walters of Glenn Allen, Va., in Boys 14-15; and Savannah Grewal of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada in Girls 14-15.

For one competitor at the Baltusrol regional, it will be a return trip, however: 12-year-old Megha Ganne of Holmdel, N.J., who advanced to the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship in 2015, qualified for the second time. Her score of 136 – 21 more than second place in the Girls 12-13 division – guaranteed her another chance to compete for the national title. But even more special for her parents, Sudha and Hari, was that 7-year-old Sirina will be joining her. Sirina won the Girls 7-9 division, with a score of 86 – including scoring a 55 in putting.

“That’s definitely going to be much more fun than going by myself,” Megha said afterward. “Once she made it, I knew I had to make it, too. I was definitely a little nervous though because I wanted to go with her.”

Some were so excited at the prospect of making it to Augusta National, that they wanted a memento to remember the occasion. Moloney’s dad, John, was able to get the scoreboard sheet for his son’s group.

“He likes to keep these on the wall in his room for motivation,” the elder Moloney said. “He has the one from when he finished third last year (in qualifying) at Congressional.”

Tiee, the father of Mia Wong – the winner of the Girls 10-11 division – took her score sheet home as well. He’s been to Augusta National before, going last year with a pupil of his (he’s a teaching pro in Stouffville, Ontario, Canada) who qualified for the national finals, but will be savoring this experience. He put his pro career on the mini-tours on hold when Mia was born, opting for a more stabile life as a teacher. Now, he’ll accompany his daughter to Augusta National on the Sunday before Masters week.

“My sister and I would stay up late some nights talking about making it to Augusta National,” Mia said of her younger sister, Giselle, who finished seventh in the Girls 7-9 division. “So to have her here and my dad, I couldn’t have done it without them.”

The entire Wong family made the trek down to New Jersey late Thursday night, in order to practice and be settled. Mom, dad, and all four kids are under age 10. After Mia was awarded her gold medal in the ceremony, Giselle pulled Mia aside and gave her a big hug.

“We get to go to Augusta!” Giselle yelped. “Thank you Mia!”