PARKER, Colo. – Given the Mediapolis, Iowa scenery that Mateo Rascon calls home, Colorado Golf Club seemed wonderfully different on Sunday.
“Where I’m from, we don’t have any mountains,” Rascon said after finishing a Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier played at more than 6,000 feet above sea level.
The 14-year-old took full advantage of the thin Colorado air and crushed three monster drives — one measuring 367 yards — en route to a jaw-dropping score of 205 points out of a possible 225 points. Rascon will return to the National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club next spring as a result of winning the Boys 14-15 division on Sunday.
Rascon, who also holed a chip and a putt, finished second in his age division at the 2017 National Finals. Not surprisingly, he won the drive skills portion.
“I know what to expect there, and I’m so excited to be going back,” he said.
Under a cloudless Colorado sky, with Pikes Peak in the distance and eight spots in the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on the line, Rascon was among the 112 participants from 12 states who competed Sunday in the first regional qualifier hosted by Colorado Golf Club. The 13-year-old private club has hosted the 2010 PGA Senior Championship, the 2013 Solheim Cup and will welcome the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship later this month.
“Giving back to the game through Drive, Chip and Putt is a big thing for us,” said Matt Kellogg, President of Colorado Golf Club.
The four boys and four girls who advanced to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals represented seven states, and half will return to Augusta for a second time.
Along with Rascon, put Chase Hughes in the returner category, despite the fact that he is just 9 years old.
Hughes, of Oklahoma City, Okla., finished fourth in the Boys 7-9 division at the 2019 National Finals and was serious about returning. His father, Nick Hughes, says the older members of Gaillardia Country Club back home call Chase “Mr. Clutch,” because he “loves to perform under pressure.”
True to form, the younger Hughes maintained his game face as he won the Boys 7-9 division with 145 points. He did smile when told his good friend and fellow past National Finalist Evyn Cannon of Edmond, Okla., was tied for the lead in the Girls 10-11 division and heading to a playoff.
Ultimately, however, Reese Wallace of South Barrington, Ill., would win that playoff. Wallace gave herself an 11th birthday present – and her parents Nick and Cindy an unforgettable wedding anniversary gift – by doing so.
After the pair tied with 134 points, they each hit one extra drive, chip and putt. After a great drive and a stubbed chip, Wallace lagged her putt while Cannon’s rolled past. Wallace advanced.
Wallace learned the game from her grandfather before turning 3 years old. She plays her summer golf at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club and first competed in Drive, Chip and Putt as a 6-year-old.
“I waited the last five years just to get to regionals,” she said, “and now I’m going to Augusta. I’m so happy!”
Steven Berzack, of Lebanon, Mo., also first picked up a club as a 2-year-old, which helped lay the groundwork for his victory in the Boys 10-11 division.
Berzack grew up hitting golf balls into the bedsheets his father, Doug, hung in their home. Their backyard now sports a regulation putting green, built by Doug, that has sharpened Steven’s game.
“I just swing the club like I was at home,” he said of his approach to the regional. Steven credits his success to his pre-shot routine of standing over the ball and counting to 10 before he hits it.
Duff Mckay of Dallas, meanwhile, credits lots of things, including his fitness. Mckay, named after his great-uncle, a stuntman who doubled for Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I., hit a 3-wood in the drive skills portion because of the altitude “and I hit it straighter than my driver.” It helped the 12-year-old break through to the National Finals after competing in three previous regional qualifiers.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work running and doing sit-ups and push-ups,” he said.
Mckay gives back through the charity “Win Green” by getting pledges for every tournament he wins and donating the money to cancer research at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Lydia Boles, of Ballwin, Mo., won the Girls 7-9 division after calming her nerves by “making myself think like nobody’s watching.” After scoring only 11 points in the drive skill portion, she scored 41 and 50 points, respectively, in the chip and putting skills portions to take the title.
Ali Mulhall of Green River, Wyo., earned her second trip to the National Finals by winning the Girls 14-15 division. She also qualified for the 2018 event. Mulhall’s good friend Yana Wilson, of Henderson, Nev., won the Girls 12-13 division to also secure a return trip to Augusta.
Wilson started playing golf five years ago after some success in mixed martial arts, gymnastics and tennis. Her athleticism has paid great dividends in golf, as she won the National Champion title for the Girls 12-13 division at the 2019 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
Wilson, for one, was able to find some level of familiarity among the mountains on Sunday.
“The greens at Colorado Golf Club are comparable to Augusta National,” Wilson said. “Well, almost.”