EDINA, Minn. – In the footsteps of golf icons Bobby Jones and Patty Berg at the historic Interlachen Country Club on a cool September day in the Twin Cities, 64 participants looked to be among the eight finalists moving on to the 2018 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club next April.
Though it was unlikely that Jones’ infamous ‘Lily Pad shot’ from the 1930 U.S. Open would be duplicated at Interlachen’s ninth hole Saturday, a new generation of golfers created memories sure to last for years to come.
Among the first to qualify Saturday was Inver Grove Heights, Minn., native Isabella McCauley (pictured above), who won the Girls 14-15 age division thanks in part to her start off the tee. McCauley, 13, earned a victory in the driving portion of the tournament and had a strong showing with her putter to earn a 17-point victory to advance to the National Finals at Augusta National for the second consecutive year.
“I was shaking up at the tee, but my drives were some of the longest I’ve hit,” McCauley said after advancing Saturday. “I had high expectations and thought coming into the competition that I had a chance. I hope to do better and have a great time. It’s going to be a great experience.”
Also advancing to the regional qualifer for a second time was McCauley’s younger sister, Reese, who competed in the Girls 12-13 age division Saturday. Now making her second appearance at the National Finals, the elder McCauley gave her sister some worthy advice before hitting her first tee shot, though Reese did not eventually qualify.
“I told her to go out and have fun, but mostly to trust herself and see what she can do,” Isabella said.
Prior to qualifying last year for the 2017 National Finals, an emotional Isabella watched her hopes of advancing to the 2016 event evaporate after finishing in a tie for first in her age group, but would lose a scorecard playoff.
Assuming a different role on the golf course Saturday was PGA professional Ryan Helminen, who watched daughter Aliisa win the Girls 7-9 division to advance to Augusta National on the Sunday before the 2018 Masters Tournament.
“It’s way easier for me to play than to watch her,” Helminen, who plays in the Minnesota Section of the PGA, said of his nerves watching his daughter compete Saturday. “I can handle making mistakes on the golf course.
“She makes me drag her with to the golf course every day—she loves it. Her game got better this year and mine got worse.”
The younger Helminen, 9, finished second in the driving portion of the qualifier Saturday before a strong showing with her wedge as she earned a victory in the chipping discipline and a third-place finish in putting.
“I was more excited than nervous today,” Helminen said after qualifying. “I’m really excited—it’s like a dream come true.”
After her father missed an opportunity to play in the PGA Championship in early August, Aliisa told her dad, “Since he didn’t make the [PGA Championship], I told him that I’m going to take him to Augusta.”
Following a slight mishap at the regional qualifier a year ago, Wisconsin’s Aidan Antony redeemed himself to win the Boys 7-9 division Saturday, earning his first trip down Magnolia Lane next spring.
“We forgot my clubs and had to use someone else’s,” Antony recalled from last year’s subregional qualifier.
Antony, a Milwaukee 8-year-old, finished second in driving Saturday before sharing a victory in chipping with a total of 35 points. Antony sank his first putt of the competition on his way to winning the putting skill with 50 points to earn an 18-point victory in his age group.
“Once I hit my first shot, my parents thought I should try it out,” Antony said of his start to the sport. “When we moved to Wisconsin I started playing more. I’m looking forward to meeting the players [at Augusta].”
Among other qualifiers at Interlachen Saturday was Corey Boerner, of Bloomington, Minn., who won the putting skill to advance to his first Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals with a six-point victory in the Boys 14-15 division.
Vunnisa Vu, from Maplewood, Minn., relied on her consistency, advancing from the Girls 12-13 division without a victory in any of the disciplines Saturday. Vu, an avid tennis player, finished second in driving and putting to earn a slim, one-point victory to move on to Augusta next April.
After three runner-up finishes at regional qualifying, the fourth attempt proved to be the charm for Andrew Ramos, who won the Boys 12-13 division to earn his spot in the National Finals. Ramos, from Blaine, Minn., earned a 16-point victory in his age group without winning any of the skills.
Earning a trip to Augusta National for the second time in three years is West St. Paul, Minn., resident Sam Udovich, who won the Boys 10-11 Division thanks to his first-place finish in driving and a pair of second-place finishes in chipping and putting.
Avery Zweig, from McKinney, Texas, also earned a trip back to Augusta. She previously qualified for the 2016 National Finals out of the regional qualifier at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn. Zweig posted a score of 144 on Saturday at Interlachen to cruise to a 35-point victory in the Girls 10-11 division by winning both the driving and chipping skills before finishing third in putting.