By Bill Fields
It wasn’t a morning for dawdling. Emily Lauterbach and her father, Heath, were in the Marriott lobby by 5:50 a.m. The shuttle van to Augusta National Golf Club for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals wouldn’t leave for another 25 minutes, but this was a big morning for big dreamers, 80 competitors, ages 7 to 15, who had survived three qualifying rounds to get to this stage.
It had been a 14-hour drive for the Lauterbach family from their home in Hartland, Wis., to Augusta, Ga. It would be an eight-minute ride from downtown Augusta to Magnolia Lane, the most famous entrance in golf.
Emily’s father had already taken his daughter’s purple golf bag outside. Emily was clad in purple, the color for competitors from the Upper Midwest region.
“Purple is her favorite color,” Heath said. “We took it as a sign.” Emily had figured out something in her swing while practicing Saturday. She was confident.
So was T.K. Schultz, a 14-year-old from Bulverde, Texas, outside San Antonio. Schultz failed to advance through his local Drive, Chip and Putt qualifier the previous year. “I worked hard every day, and I was motivated,” said Schultz, who has a first-degree black belt in Taekwondo. “It’s just such an honor to be here, such a reward.”
Schultz won’t be thinking only of himself when he competes in the Boys 14-15 division Sunday morning. The eighth-grader is devoted to the Wounded Warrior Project through the AJGA's Birdies for Charity program, a cause that is personal to Schultz and his family. Two of T.K.’s cousins—Sgt. Billy W. Bushnell and Spc. Cory W. Burgess, each 24 years old—were killed while serving in the United States military within three months of each other in 2007. Bushnell, a member of the U.S. Army’s 12th Cavalry died in Iraq on April 21; Burgess, in the 164th Military Police Company, was killed during training in Alaska on June 30, before his unit was deployed to Iraq.
Schultz’s golf bag has a patch with Burgess’ name. He is seeking to raise $1,000 for the Wounded Warrior Project. “I’ve raised $371 so far,” Schultz said. “It is a good feeling to help our veterans, who do so much for our country.”
Schultz was able to get a firsthand account about going to the Masters from his golf instructor, Tim Hobby, who played in the 1990 Masters after winning the U.S. Amateur Public Links the year before. As with many of the Drive, Chip and Putt finalists, though, it would be Schultz’s first time at Augusta National.
“I worked hard every day, and I was motivated. It’s just such an honor to be here, such a reward.” - T.K. Schultz
Some of the contestants left the hotel for the Club before the sun was out, a full moon overhead. In a van with four of the Boys 7-9 participants—Maxwell Tjoa, John Hiller, Grayson Wood and Daniel Zou—and their chaperones, the short ride was a mix of silence and chatter. The boys talked Tiger Woods, tournaments they were planning to compete in later this year and strategies for the Drive portion of the competition. Wood’s father, Ken, said his son would try to take a smooth swing on his first attempt, and if it was in play, would put a harder swing on his second.
The van made its way a couple of miles west on Washington Road, slowing as it prepared to make a left turn onto Magnolia Lane.
“It’s kind of hidden,” said Tjoa, leaning forward in the first bench seat.
As the van approached the entrance, Hiller got a better view of Augusta National’s stately antebellum Clubhouse. He lives in New York City, which has plenty of big and famous buildings, but this was different.
“Look at that!” Hiller said.
Soon they were disembarking, given a friendly greeting from a member as they stepped onto the grounds. The 10 boys were lined up in the order in which they would compete. The sky was brightening. A day they wouldn’t soon forget was under way.