By Tom Spousta
Mia Raines' voice filled with excitement as she described how her mother, Michelle, nearly stopped the car as they approached the entrance to Magnolia Lane.
"It was pretty cool. We saw the slightest bit of the Clubhouse,'' Mia said. "My mom is like, 'Oh, it's so beautiful!' Then we drove by it again because my sister Kara didn't see. I was like, 'Oh, come on!'"
What began as simple family bonding time at the driving range has taken the Raines' to Augusta National, where Mia, 10, competed Sunday as one of 80 finalists in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
"It’s a great experience to be on the course where the pros are," said Mia, who lists Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie among her favorite golfers. "To see how the future might play out for you in something like this is cool."
For Mia, it's been a journey that began in China's Jiangsu province. She was born there and later adopted at 13 months old by Michelle and Nolan, the second of three girls for the Galena, Ohio, family. The Raines first adopted Leila, 14, from Moscow at 2 years old; Kara, a 17-year-old high school junior who has verbally committed to play golf at Youngstown State, came from China at age 11.
Mia's adoption referral was complicated somewhat by a medical condition that left her with two holes in her heart. Until recently, she had to see a cardiologist on a regular basis, but one of the holes has closed on its own, and now she has been cleared for annual visits.
"We knew very little about it," Michelle said. "We were told by the doctors here that there was a chance she could need open-heart surgery, but that they didn't know until they saw her. But it wasn't even a thought for us, because it was love at first sight.
"It's never, ever reduced her energy levels. We've just been very blessed. We didn't know what we were getting into, but neither one of the holes have been an issue."
Said Nolan: "It's been a blessing, but you're just always cautious."
Mia began playing golf when she was 3, when Nolan, a self-described social golfer, would take his daughters to the driving range. She started competing at age 6 and has carded a personal-best 35 for nine holes.
The Raines sisters enjoy a sibling rivalry on the golf course, too.
"Mia is catching up to us," Leila said. "She's still a little behind us right now. Thankfully."
"We like to have fun on the course," said Mia, who is left-handed, but plays golf right-handed. (She's also a point guard in basketball and starred on her fourth-grade traveling team.) "We can't go one practice without having a putting competition. We're very competitive."
"To see how the future might play out for you in something like this is cool." - Mia Raines
Mia narrowly missed a trip to Augusta National last year when she was 9, finishing as a runner-up in the regional finals. That only stoked her determination for this year, and she dominated with an 11-point overall edge and beating the entire field in the chipping competition.
"Nolan hasn't played with them for probably two years because they started beating him," Michelle said.
"It was originally just a Saturday morning bonding thing when they were little," Michelle said. "Then one summer, it went from the driving range to the course and actually playing. And they became hooked."
The Raines were also accompanied by Mia's swing coach, JR Ables, a former Ohio State women's golf coach and assistant on the Buckeyes men's team in the 1970s who now teaches in the Columbus area.
Her fellow fourth-graders at Johnnycake Corners Elementary School in Galena were with her in spirit, too. Before Mia left, her teachers and classmates threw a surprise party for her, complete with streamers and balloons.
"They were super excited," Mia said. "The first question they're going to ask is what place did I get in. I know they're all going to be watching. They're a huge support in my life. It's amazing."