By Ken MacLeod
Amid the celebrations and tears of joy shed by those who punched their tickets to Augusta National at the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier on Saturday at Southern Hills Country Club, one family had more reasons to rejoice than the others.
Siblings Maye Huang and Treed Huang of Katy, Texas, each earned spots in the finals. Maye won the Girls 7-9 age group while Treed prevailed in the Boys 12-13 group.
Going to Augusta for the April 2, 2017 finals will not be a first-time experience for the Huang family. Treed won the Boys 7-9 age group in 2014 in the first DCP event. After watching his sister prevail early on a breezy but pleasant afternoon at the storied Tulsa, Okla., club that has hosted seven major championships, Treed knew he had to respond.
“Going to Augusta last time was an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful course I’ve ever seen. When my sister won, that gave me extra motivation to be competing there again.”
The Huangs practice daily at Meadowbrook Farms Golf Club in Katy, including family matches in the evening. Treed will have to watch out for the up-and-comer in the family. He won the regional with his putter, draining the first two left-to-right breakers from 5 and 15 feet then putting his third within the inner circle for a total of 70 points of his winning total of 135.
Southern Hills used the green on the fourth hole for the chipping contest and the shot featured a strong break to the left after the ball landed. Only one player in all four age groups knocked it in and that shot propelled Jacqueline Feldman of Austin, Texas, to victory in the Girls 14-15 group.
Feldman, who plays out of Great Hills Country Club and is a regular competitor in junior events, has been working hard in preparation since a friend qualified a year ago.
“Every day after school or volleyball practice, I would go putt, then hit a ton of chips and work on my drives,” she said. “On the chip shot, I walked up, looked around the hole, read the green and picked out my landing spot. It was just amazing I chipped it in, I wasn’t expecting it.”
Also in full celebration mode Saturday was Jesus Saenz, the father of Isabella Saenz. Tears rolled down his face as he watched Isabella prevail in the Girls 12-13 group. His older daughter Ariana, now 17, had qualified previously, an experience that helped lift the spirits of the family while his wife Maria was battling breast cancer. Ariana will attend Texas A&M on a full scholarship next season and Isabella is hoping the Drive, Chip and Putt experience will help propel her to similar success.
“Seeing my sister compete at Augusta was a life-changing experience for me,” Isabella said. “Seeing her on the 18th green at Augusta, I said I want to be there one day. I said I have to buckle down and make sure I make it one day to Augusta. I was so nervous, everything was running through my head from the first drive to the last putt. But now I am so excited and can’t wait until April.”
Jesus devotes himself to his children’s success during practice seasons at Kingwood Country Club and both attend The First Tee of Houston.
“I try to teach my girls to work hard and do the right things,” Jesus said. “I’m so proud of her.”
Representing Oklahoma at Augusta will be William Hennessee of Tulsa in Boys 10-11. With his parents and teacher Maggie Roller watching, Hennessee rolled up 50 points on the putting green to edge Wyatt Nickson by three points, 101-98.
“He’s been working so hard this summer,” Roller said. “He’s one of those kids who is 10 going on 35. He’s so serious when he answers your questions. He’ll say, ‘Maggie, my angle of attack is getting just a bit steep and we need to work on that.’ He’s so technical and so analytical. He loves every aspect of it.”
Hennessee said a normal summer day for him is go to the Broken Arrow Golf & Athletic Club at 8 a.m. and return home at 8 p.m., having spent 12 hours practicing, playing, swimming and having fun.
One other Oklahoman who did not make it out of the regional was 9-year-old Peyton “Beans” Factor of Ada, so nicknamed by her parents Jimpsey and Sara Factor because that was all she would eat in her younger days.
Beans placed fourth in the 7-9 age group, but she’s already had a golf experience of a lifetime. Last year she won a USGA LPGA Girls Golf contest and spent a week at the LPGA’s CME Tour Championship, meeting and interviewing players such as Lydia Ko and Paula Creamer and following Sandra Gal for all 18 holes of a round.
Cary Cozby, director of golf at Southern Hills, was asked if many of the competitors and their families had inquired about playing the historic club while in Tulsa.
“Only about 72 of 80,” Cozby said. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t accommodate that with the contest and our member play on this weekend. But yes, the interest was certainly there. I think everyone appreciated being here.”
Other players who advanced to Augusta included Jacob Castro of Denton, Texas (Boys 7-9), Cavan Jones of Roswell, N.M. (Boys 14-15), Kate Bennett of Ft. Worth, Texas (Girls 10-11) and Jacqueline Feldman of Austin, Texas (Girls 14-15).