By Stuart Hall
The pressure was beginning to weigh on Carter Kontur.
In his hotel room on Saturday night, on the eve of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship’s regional qualifier at Pinehurst (N.C.) Resort & Country Club’s No. 2 Course, the 11-year-old asked his father, Bob, and mother, Erin, to sit down. Carter wanted to share his burden.
With his parents listening, Carter began to speak, uttering words that touch any parent’s heart.
“I don’t want to fail you,” he said amid a stream of tears.
“We just told him, ‘It’s OK, just do your best,’ ” said Erin, attempting to ease her son’s fear.
On Sunday morning, in the opening drive portion of the three-skill competition, Kontur, of Lawrenceville, Ga., hit one of his three shots out of bounds.
“I know I’m not really good at driving,” said Kontur, whose 24-point total placed last in the 10-player division after the first category. “After that, though, I was thinking I know what I need to do.”
Kontur, a sixth grader, stands 4-foot-7 and is nicknamed “Squirrel” because of his diminutive size. He responded like his father expected to win the chip category outright and then the putt category in a tiebreaker.
“He has a lot of perseverance,” Bob said.
Carter’s 119-point total qualified him, along with seven other age division winners from this regional, for the fourth Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club next April 2 — the day before Masters Tournament week and Kontur’s 12th birthday.
“I really didn’t think I had the courage [to win], but my father has helped me through things physically and mentally,” said Carter, who reached the regional through local qualifying at The Landing at Reynolds Lake Oconee in Greensboro, Ga. “I was negative at times and he just encourages me to keep working and says good will prevail.”
Kontur’s excitement of advancing to Augusta National was replicated throughout the day at the qualifier that brought golfers from five Southeastern states.
The wake of tropical storm Hermine produced a perfect Pinehurst morning — a cloudless Carolina blue sky with cool temperatures and ample sunshine. A lone bagpiper played a medley of Scottish tunes in leading the first group of competitors, the Girls age 7-9 division, to the opening shots.
In that group was Claire Bradford, 9, of Watkinsville, Ga., who already had plans to attend next year’s Masters with her family. Her father, Tom, was a regular attendee of the Masters for about 10 years while growing up. His grandfather helped run the leader board located at No. 15 green.
Claire won the drive category outright and the chip category in a playoff en route to winning her age division.
“I enjoy every category depending on what day it is,” said Claire, who ultimately admitted to having a fondness for putting.
Tom Bradford was not surprised.
When Claire was 3, Tom routinely chipped balls in their yard. His daughter often knocked over his golf bag and walked around with a club tucked under her arm, trying to emulate a putting stroke.
These days, Claire often heads to the golf course to hone her putting and chipping skills before attending school.
“I was a little nervous during the drive [portion],” she said, “but then I knew I had a lead after that and it calmed me down a little.”
Calm for the time being. Come April, those nerves are sure to return.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” she said of heading to Augusta National.
To appreciate the impact that the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship — a golf development initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America — is making, there is the story of 12-year-old Madilyn Newman, of Knoxville, Tenn.
Newman was watching the Masters with her father, Bryant, when the championship was originally announced. Three days later, an intrigued Newman, with the help of her parents, registered for the inaugural championship.
“I had not really played before,” said Newman, who has registered for all four championships, but until Sunday had never advanced past the regional. Newman used a 20-point final putt to win the Girls 12-13 division by six points.
“I felt really comfortable out here,” said Newman, who estimates she has played at least a dozen juniors tournaments on Pinehurst courses over the past few years. “I knew the greens would be extremely fast, so I think that helped me.”
Joining Kontur, Bradford and Newman out of the Pinehurst qualifier are Peter Sposato, of Bishop, Ga. (Boys 7-9); Catherine Qiu, of Ashburn, Va. (Girls 10-11); Clinton Daly, of Charlotte, N.C. (Boys 12-13); Karson Adkins, of Savannah, Tenn. (Girls 14-15) and Jaron Leasure, of Virginia Beach, Va. (Boys 14-15).