Emotional Regional Final A Success at The Honors Course

OOLTEWAH, Tenn. – Long before 9-year-old Julie Waldo (pictured above) won her way to Augusta National for next spring’s Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals by capturing the Girls 7-9 age division at Sunday’s regional qualifier at The Honors Course, there was another Julie Waldo who was making a pretty big name for herself in golf.

Only that Waldo, who would have been young Julie’s aunt, was murdered in 1984 at the start of a promising LPGA career after an outstanding collegiate run at the University of Florida.

“We were going to name our Julie, my daughter, Claire,” said Stuart Waldo. “But when my wife (Kerri) first saw her, she said, ‘She’s a little Julie. We couldn’t name her anything else.’”

Not every story at The Honors regional came with mandatory tissues. There was the determination of 15-year-old Jay Nimmo of Benton, Ky., who’ll be making his second trip to Augusta in three years, thanks to a lethal short game.

If you want to know how motivated Nimmo is to succeed in golf, he also plays basketball for Marshall County (Ky.) High School in the hoops-crazy Commonwealth. But when asked if he’d rather sink a last-second free throw to win the Bluegrass’s “Sweet 16” state title or capture his age group at the DCP National Finals, he answered, “Augusta.”

Then there are Peach State schoolboy buddies Thaxton Cheyne and Patmon Malcom, who both live on the northern outskirts of Atlanta. The two practice together all the time, 9-year-old Thaxton often wearing his good-luck, Payne Stewart-style ivy cap and Malcom perfecting a game that already won him a 10-year-old world championship this summer at Pinehurst.

Both won their age groups to advance to Augusta, causing Cheyne’s father Garrick to observe, “What I’m most excited about is how this shows him that hard work pays off. Thaxton has worked so hard for this. He practices every single day.”

Young Cheyne also plays basketball but admits, “I’m not the best at it, which is why I play golf.”

The Honors Course was founded in 1983 by the late Chattanooga business mogul Jack Lupton to honor amateur golf. Designed by Pete Dye, it has unfailingly accomplished that mission, hosting the 1991 U.S. Amateur and NCAA Division I golf championships in 1996 (Tiger Woods won before turning pro) and 2010 (won by Augusta State), as well as numerous other amateur national championships.

Its reputation as one of the nation’s top 35 courses appeared well-deserved as Sunday’s competitors made their way to the awards ceremonies just off the No. 1 tee box.

“These are the best conditions I’ve ever seen at a Drive, Chip and Putt regional final,” said PGA professional Bob Baldassari, who emceed the awards presentations. “And I’ve worked these DCP regionals all over the country.”

That was certainly what The Honors Course club pro Henrik Simonsen hoped to hear of the DCP competition that was first staged five years ago and is jointly sponsored by the USGA, the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament.

“We’re about honoring amateur golf,” Simonsen said. “There are only 10 sites for these regionals around the country. We’re here to promote the game. That has to start somewhere, and it starts right here with junior golf.”

Lupton passed away in 2010, but DCP volunteer Donna Mize – whose husband Marshall is a longtime Honors member – said, “I wish Jack could have seen this. He would have loved it.”

The 80 children age 7 to 15 and their parents seemed to love it, whether they advanced to Augusta National or not. And in something of a surprise – given that The Honors Course is in the very southeast corner of Tennessee, not 10 miles from the Georgia state line – the vast majority of the competitors were from the Midwest, 33 hailing from Illinois and another 15 from Indiana.

One of those competitors, 13-year-old Siara Patel flew in with her father from Chicago. She arrived at The Honors Course wearing a Titleist cap signed by Jordan Spieth a couple of weeks ago at the Windy City’s BMW Championship. Like a lot of kids her age she said Spieth was her favorite player, that she liked him, “A lot.”

Thomas Seeley and his daughter Isabell drove nearly eight hours from Williamsport, Ohio, to compete in the Girls 12-13 competition. “I had a club pro before we left tell us to soak it in,” said Seeley. “He said that there wouldn’t be a piece of grass out of place and I believe he’s right.”

For eight fortunate regional final winners, their golf games were never more at the right moment than Sunday. Especially young Waldo, whose mother Kerri gave her winning daughter a big hug, then said with a laugh, “You need to tell your grandfather to pay his cable bill because you’re going to be on the Golf Channel this week.”

Then Kerri turned more serious, reflecting on the Aunt Julie her daughter never had a chance to know.

“I really believe that somewhere up there Julie is looking down and smiling, so proud of what her namesake has done,” she said.