By Ron Driscoll, USGA
BROOKLINE, Mass. – Garrett Jordan wasn’t sure whether he heard his young daughter right.
“The par-3 tournament at Augusta was on TV, and Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player were there, playing with their grandkids,” said Jordan. “The announcers mentioned the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, and she said, ‘I’d like to give that a try.’ I said, are you serious?”
Piper Jordan, now 10, was serious about giving the game a shot. That was April 2013, and a little more than two years later, there was Piper at the New England Regional DCP qualifier for 2016. Although she didn’t win her age group, she had the second-best putting score among the 10 competitors and finished in a three-way tie for sixth place. But something else important happened when Piper brought up golf that day – even more important than the opportunity to play on Sunday at The Country Club, site of three U.S. Opens and one memorable Ryder Cup.
“Without a doubt, the game has been a bridge to some great times for us,” said Garrett, 43, of Hingham, Mass. “It’s been a lot of fun getting to know her through the game of golf – I’ve had some conversations with my child that I never thought I would be involved in.”
Garrett was never more than a recreational player before Piper spurred him on, and now the entire family (including wife Beth and son Liam, 6) enjoys playing at the Harmon Club in nearby Rockland or at South Shore Country Club in Hingham, where the lessons often involve much more than golf.
“It’s also about learning that you have to work hard, and that sometimes bounces don’t go your way – it’s a crazy game,” said Garrett. “It’s personal time, family time and it’s learning life skills – it’s been a great experience all in all, and the whole bridge to it has been the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. I’m totally grateful to this event.”
Piper, who just started fifth grade, also plays hockey, where she plays both center and goalkeeper. But something keeps her coming back to golf, where she has competed in some US Kids Golf events. As she put it succinctly, “It’s hard, and it’s fun.”
Nicole Criscone, of Clifton Park, N.Y., fell 4 points short of making it to the DCP Finals last year in the Regional Final at Bethpage Black. This time, she made it through to Augusta National, where she will be one of the 80 finalists across four age groups in boys and girls divisions.
“Last year, I didn’t do well on my 30-foot putt and it cost me the whole thing,” said Nicole, who will turn 10 on March 22 and competed in the 10-11 Division, where she tallied 124 points. “I worked extra hard on it, and today I nearly put it in.”
In the Boys 10-11 Division, it came down to a tiebreaker when Sam O’Hara, of Rye, N.Y., and Brian Adams, of North Hampton, N.H., matched 111-point totals. O’Hara edged Adams in the putting category to take first place.
“I read his chipping score wrong and I thought he was beating me by 10 points,” said O’Hara. “Then we added up our scores together and we both had 111. I was pretty excited to find out I was tied for first and when they announced that I had won I was relieved.”
O’Hara had to rush off so that he could take advantage of a birthday present, which he received two days earlier. A friend had given him tickets to the men’s final of the U.S. Open Tennis Championship, and his father figured they could just about get to the National Tennis Center for the start of the match.
“This is the best weekend of my life,” said O’Hara.
Gianna Papa, of Foster, R.I., and Jack St. Ledger, of Little Falls, N.J., earned first place in their respective 7-9-year-old divisions to advance to Augusta National on April 3.
Tiya Chowdary, of Montgomery, N.J., is returning to the finals after a one-year hiatus. She made it to Augusta in 2014 and didn’t attempt to qualify for 2015, but her 132 points were easily enough to earn her a return trip in the Girls 12-13 Division.
“I got to meet a lot of pros last time and eat in the Founders Room,” said Chowdary, who says that Stacy Lewis is her favorite player. “I like her attitude and the way she goes after things. She also gave my sister a high-five at the Women’s Open [in Lancaster, Pa., in July].”
Michael DeRienzo, of Southbury, Conn., overcame a tough start – topping his first drive – to edge Charlie Stuhr, of Ridgefield, Conn., and Austin Liao, of Warren, N.J., by two points in the Boys 12-13 Division, by far the closest finish of the day. DeRienzo holed two of his three putts in the final category for 139 points. Stuhr took second in the tiebreaker with Liao at 137 points. As DeRienzo correctly pointed out, his topped drive earned him a point, and he won by two.
“I just kept thinking to myself, I can win it on the chipping and the putting,” said DeRienzo. “I almost holed the first chip and hit two more good ones.”
Kyra Cox, of South Salem, N.Y., tallied an impressive 155 points, tops for the day, and Michael Thorbjornsen, of Wellesley, Mass., had 154 as they earned victories in their respective 14-15 divisions. Thorbjornsen provided himself an early birthday present with his trip to Augusta – he turns 14 on Wednesday.
Daniel Joseph, assistant professional at The Country Club, which will host the U.S. Open in 2022, said, “Seeing the kids interacting, laughing, making new friends – you could tell how much it meant to the families as a whole. What better way to promote the game than to give the kids an experience that they will remember forever – one that will hopefully keep them involved in golf.”