By Mike Dudurich
OAKMONT, Pa. – Saturday wasn’t much of a day for golf in Western Pennsylvania.
And that was especially true at historic Oakmont Country Club, which hosted the Drive, Chip & Putt Regional Finals.
The 80 youngsters who qualified to compete at Oakmont were greeted with weather more normal for Scotland or Ireland in late summer. Temperatures reached no higher than the mid-60s, skies were dark and the wind and rain really made it miserable at times.
But when the kids came through the stone-lined entrance, they were bundled for the weather and wide-eyed with excitement.
One of the youngest girls in the event stood in the pouring rain for two hours before the event got underway in order to get a picture underneath the big clock at the practice area.
Natalia Sompolvorachai, of West Chester, Ohio, the Girls 14-15 division winner, said weather wasn’t the biggest thing on her mind.
“After today, now I know a little bit of what the pros have to go through,” she said. “It was awesome, though.”
It seems only fitting that two of the winners, Vanessa Borovilos (Girls 7-9) and Elaine Giantsopoulos (Girls 12-13) were from Canada, where climate determines the length of the golf season. They live in Ontario and are joined in the weather-challenged category by Boys 14-15 winner Andrew LaCongo, who lives near Buffalo.
Ohio had four finalists, Canada two, New York one and Pennsylvania one.
Nolan Haynes, of Barberton, Ohio, won the Boys 10-11 division, getting him back to Augusta National, the site of the National Finals.
“I really wanted to come here because I’ve already been to Augusta National and I’ll be used to it,” Haynes said. “I like Firestone Country Club, but this is much better. I thought it would be cool to come here, and it was.”
Charlie Danuloff, 9, of Ontario, Ohio, won the Boys 7-9 division and wore a wide smile after the award ceremony.
“I’m really exciting about winning today,” he said. “My short game is strong, but my driving was not very good.”
Mia Raines, of Galena, Ohio, won the Girls 10-11 division and she’ll be riding her driver to Augusta National.
“My driving was my best today, I got all three drives in [bounds],” she said. “This is my second year getting to this round so this is such a big deal for me. It’s really an honor. It was such a great experience to play here.”
Skyler Fox, 13, of Beaver Falls, Pa., won the Boys 12-13 division by scoring 125 points.
Fox recorded his first hole-in-one at age 9, dunking a 9-iron from 130 yards on the fifth hole at Olde Stonewall Golf Course in Ellwood City, Pa., north of Pittsburgh. Since then, he’s had three more aces.
Even more impressive is that from the gold tees at Olde Stonewall, which measure 5,708 yards, Fox shot a 58 at age 11.
“I can’t wait to go,” he said about the trip to Augusta. “I’ve worked a lot on my putting and that’s basically what saved me today. The greens here today were awesome, really quick.”
Oakmont golf professional Devin Gee said the club was pleased having the youngsters competing there.
“We’re extremely proud to host this event,” he said. “Obviously, we have a long-standing relationship with the USGA (which co-runs the event with the PGA of America and the Masters Tournament). This had to be a very neat experience for these kids to qualify on the site of the 2016 U.S. Open to get to the site of the Masters. What a kick for them.”