Excitement is High for Skills Contestants

It’s noon Saturday, and the contestants are beginning to arrive. Not the PGA touring professionals who will be playing in the Masters next week, but rather the boys and girls who will be competing in the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, the National Finals of which are being held at Augusta National on Sunday.

The youngsters start making their way to the registration table at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Augusta by midday Saturday. Many of them boasting favorite golf hats and shoes, and all of them wearing wide smiles as they contemplate what they will soon be doing at the home of the Masters.

“It’s so amazing,” said 12-year-old Karah Sanford, from Escondido, Calif., who has won multiple city, regional and national championships in spite of having to deal with scoliosis, the same spinal disease that LPGA star Stacy Lewis has battled successfully. “I cannot believe that I am here to play golf in Augusta.”

Adds Logan Medcalf, 8, a cross-handed player from Lynden, Wash.: “I have watched the Masters on television every year of my life, and now I am going to be playing in a competition on that very course.”

Started in 2013 by the Masters Tournament Foundation, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, and designed to promote interest and participation in golf, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free, nationwide junior skills competition.

It began last summer with a total of 110 local qualifying events at golf courses in 19 states and Washington, D.C., that drew more than 17,000 individuals, with top finishers advancing to 11 regional qualifiers. From there, 88 golfers – 44 boys and 44 girls – earned spots in the finals, which will have four divisions: 7-9 years old, 10-11 years old, 12-13 years old and 14-15 years old.

On Saturday, a buzz fills the registration room as contestants sign in and accept goody bags that include a Drive, Chip and Putt hat and shirt as well as a bag tag. They chat excitedly with each other, and their parents, about the badges they all receive for Monday’s practice round and the pins each contestant must wear throughout the event, as a magician entertains the families with deft sleights of hand.

“We are going to practice my drives for about an hour this afternoon, at a local golf course that is open to all of us,” said 9-year-old Kasey Maralack from Snoqualmie, Wash. “Then, we are going to take it easy. Tomorrow, after we arrive at the Club, I am going to chip and putt for an hour before the competition begins. I expect the greens to be fast, which is why I have been chipping downhill a lot as I get ready for this.”

Even without the practice, Maralack most certainly seems ready. As are the 87 other Drive, Chip and Putt contestants.