Phung Sisters Share Qualifying Joy at TPC River Highlands

ROMWELL, Conn. – After almost eight hours of competition, the final spot in the final age category of the day in the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier at TPC River Highlands came down to the ultimate showdown: a playoff in which two tied competitors hit one drive, one chip and one putt for a trip to Augusta National Golf Club.

Alexandra Phung, of Forest Hills, N.Y., and Maria Glavin, of Waterford, N.Y., were deadlocked at 105 points after they completed their nine allotted shots in the Girls 7-9 competition, and eight points clear of third-place finisher Addie Lord, of Suffield, Conn.

Was there perhaps a little more pressure on Alexandra? The 8-year-old had watched her big sister, Amelie, qualify in the Girls 12-13 age group earlier in the day, a glorious fall Sunday in suburban Hartford. Then again, Alexandra already had a trip to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National under her belt, having qualified at age 7 in 2018. Sibling rivalry aside, the chip shot proved decisive in the playoff as Alexandra edged Maria, 32-20, to join her older sister in next April’s competition in Georgia.

“It’s really amazing that we were both able to step up on the same day, you know?” said Amelie Phung, who broke through on her third try at the regional level. “My sister got to the National Finals last year and unfortunately I didn’t do so well in regionals, but this year I came back for revenge.”

“I’m really, really happy because she’s my sister,” said Alexandra. “Last year I didn’t have a sister to play with [at Augusta National].”

The Phung sisters are both nationally ranked in chess, and they admit to being supportive of each other but also competitive at times.

“I like coaching my little sister, but sometimes she’s a little shaky about it,” said Amelie, whose 136 points edged Kashish Malik, of Marlboro, N.J., by five points in the Girls 12-13 division. “Most of the time she listens to me. We enjoy competing against each other, but sometimes she’s not in the mood and I’m not in the mood to get beat by her. We just keep our distance sometimes.”

Besides the playoff in the Girls 7-9 division, the closest competition came in the Boys 12-13 age group, where just 22 points separated the top nine finishers. Brayden Dock, of Queensbury, N.Y., compiled 130 points to edge Julius Viray, of Florida, N.Y., at 125 and Ryan Klarreich, of Allendale, N.J., at 124. Dock did not capture any of the three skills categories, but his solid performance across the board earned him the top spot in his first trip to regionals after coming up short in three previous subregional tries.

“I’ve never been to Augusta, and I’m really excited to go,” said Dock, who plays out of Highland Park Country Club and is also a hockey player. “I don’t care how well I do, I just want to be there. I just want to meet one player, any player.”

Anthony “AJ” Colonna, of Barrington, R.I., edged out fellow Rhode Islander Rocco Capalbo, of Westerly, in the Boys 10-11 category. Capalbo led by one point, 71-70, through the drive and chip categories, but Colonna amassed 65 points in putting to take first place in his second attempt at the regional level by a 135-126 margin over Capalbo.

“AJ’s first chip today was not up to his standards and he was very upset,” said his father, Scott Colonna. “But he came back and hit two good chips and putted great after that. I was proud of him for coming back. That’s all we can ask for from our kids, because we’re all going to fail at times.”

Champa Visetsin, of Natick, Mass., holed out a chip shot on the way to victory in the Girls 10-11 division, edging out Mariah Brownhill, of New York, N.Y., 119-108. Visetsin, who has competed in U.S. Kids Golf events for about five years, was competing in Drive, Chip and Putt for the fourth time and had not cracked the top five in three previous attempts at regionals.

“When I sank that chip, I knew I had a chance,” said Visetsin. “I tried really hard to stay calm and not freak out.”

Lance Hollingshead will make his second trip to Augusta National as a regional winner, having qualified for the 2018 National Finals and missed out on a return trip to Augusta by two points. He prevailed in the Boys 14-15 group.

“This year, I wanted to get back and do it again,” said Hollingshead, of Basking Ridge, N.J., who works with instructor Nick Bova at Hamilton Farm Golf Club. “It was so much fun.”

Hollingshead, an eighth grader, was a top ski racer in the region who gave up that sport in favor of golf.

“Last winter was the first one I didn’t ski race,” he said. “I never got hurt doing it, and I didn’t want to get hurt.”

Samantha Galantini, of West Orange, N.J., captured the Girls 14-15 age group in her third time competing and just her first attempt at the regional level. Galantini plays on her freshman soccer team and also plays basketball, but she is planning to give up softball in the spring so that she can concentrate on golf.

“Of the three categories, chipping is probably my weakness, because I sometimes mess up my aim and my distance,” said Galantini. “But I’ve worked on it the most, and today I won first for chipping. It’s very satisfying to see all my hard work pay off.”

Cole Roberts of Oshawa, Ontario, captured the Boys 7-9 division in his first attempt, thanks to 55 points in the putting category, far and away the best of the 12 competitors.

Cole and his family got involved in Drive, Chip and Putt thanks to neighbors in Ontario whose children competed, and the 8½-hour drive to TPC River Highlands was well worth it for the family. Cole’s father, Jack Roberts, credited Josh Growden, the pro at Kedron Dells Golf Course in Oshawa, with boosting Cole’s confidence with the driver.

The result will be a much longer trip to Augusta National next spring.