By Nick Hunter
CHASKA, Minn. – A new day at Hazeltine National Golf Club brought optimism and opportunity. And with it came a field of 81 players looking to advance to the finals of the 2016 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, and fulfill a dream of playing at one of America’s most storied golf clubs.
Since its inception in 2014, the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship has attracted tens of thousands of players of all ages and abilities from all parts of the country.
What began with more than 250 local qualifiers in May, June and July was narrowed to 50 sub-regionals in August.
Hazeltine National Golf Club was one of 10 regional qualifying sites to decide the final 80 players who will compete at Augusta National next April.
While Saturday’s gallery may not have been as loud and boisterous as what Hazeltine can expect at the Ryder Cup next September, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles were busy clapping, cheering and even consoling players.
“I might make it to Augusta – keep your fingers crossed,” Hudson McArthur said as he analyzed the scoreboard following his performance in the Boys’ 7-9 Division.
While McArthur fell short in the overall standings, he did finish second in the chipping category of the competition.
McArthur, of Waubun, Minn., clearly had the largest section of the gallery, with an entourage of nearly 20 family members and friends who wore bright orange “Team Hudson” shirts.
The largest smile of the day belonged to Reese McCauley, of Inver Grove Heights, Minn., and for no particular reason other than she enjoys playing the game and had the chance to compete along with her older sister, Isabella.
“I think I did pretty well today,” Reese said after finishing fifth in the Girls’ 10-11 Division. “I didn’t have any expectations – I was just trying to play well. I like that it was very organized and there were only three things you had to do.”
Older sister Isabella finished tied for the lead in the Girls’ 12-13 Division, but lost in a tiebreaker to Nebraska’s Kaitlyn Hanna, which earned her more than one pat on the back from a sympathetic crowd.
Tate Herrenbruck, of Salina, Kan., will be making his first trip to Augusta next spring after winning the Boys’ 12-13 Division, but it won’t be the first time down Magnolia Lane for his family. Tate’s older brother, Grant, advanced to the championship last April, finishing sixth in the Boys’ 14-15 Division.
“He said it’s still golf and go out there and hit your shots like you normally would,” Tate said of the advice he received from his brother about playing in the championship finals.
“Today went pretty well, but I was kind of nervous on the first tee,” Tate said. “After I was done I was relieved that it’s all over and you get sit back and watch to see if you make it – and I did. My driving, mostly, was really good and my chipping wasn’t the best, but my putting was also really good.”
For eight youngsters, next April will bring an opportunity that many others have dreamed of but couldn’t quite grasp. For the rest, there are considerations beyond the competition – such as braces, juice-stained golf shirts and SpongeBob SquarePants headcovers.