With temperatures hovering in the 100s, families mingled in a shady area under a grove of large trees near the clubhouse of the Courses at Watters Creek in Plano, Texas, on July 20, 2018.
A mother and father chatted with other parents while their kids, each clutching a golf club, hurried off to compete in local qualifying for Drive, Chip and Putt.
On the practice range, a father fiddled with his son’s stance, improving his alignment before the driving event. After a well-struck shot, dad placed a wet towel on his son’s head and then gave him a quick hug and pep talk: “Good one, fella, just like that!”
A young boy and girl sat in the shade of a shared umbrella watching their older brother go through the three stages of competition. They took turns making phantom golf swings.
One hundred and seventy five young golfers braved the heat, which reached 108 degrees, to participate. Some were playing for the third time, hoping to be one of the 80 that make the trip to renowned Augusta National Golf Club for the National Finals. Others had just started playing and were experiencing their first golf competition.
From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., groups of boys and girls ages 7-15 participated in putting, chipping and driving events. Most of the groups completed the three skills in about 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time for practicing, making friends and keeping cool.
Case in point: Miyoung Yun of Plano brought her 10-year-old son, Hajoon, to Watters Creek.
Although not a golfer, Miyoung played the role of instructor, moving her arms to illustrate a correct follow-through to Hajoon, who waved his confirmation.
“He just started a few months ago,” Miyoung said. “We want this to be a good experience for him. My husband (Kenny) is a good golfer, and we heard about the Drive, Chip and Putt. We think it’s good for learning golf. He likes to practice but he really enjoys it when he can play with other kids. He’s not so nervous, just playing, having fun.”
Hajoon likes to watch golf on TV. He said he wants to improve so that he can start competing in junior events and maybe in high school.
“I like Tiger Woods,” he said. “I want to be like him and win a lot of tournaments.”
Mark Harrison, executive director of the Northern Texas PGA, said that Drive, Chip and Putt has made a major impact on attracting new golfers.
The next step is keeping them interested through tournaments, camps and clinics. The NTPGA Junior Golf Tour is one of the largest of its kind in the country with a membership of more than 4,000 and about 400 tournaments annually.
“Growing the game is all about getting them out there,” Harrison said. “There’s tons of kids who try it and get absolutely hooked on it. When you give kids a chance to advance all the way to Augusta National, that’s something we all dream about. This gives them a taste. The reality is some of these kids will do that, which is just incredible.”
Mason Fikes, 11, has been playing for six years. She made it to subregional qualifying twice in Drive, Chip and Putt.
“The competition is what I like,” she said. “It makes me try harder. I dream of playing in big tournaments. My favorite player is Michelle Wie.”
Drive, Chip and Putt has sparked her interest in the game. She wants to play in high school and college.
“Now that she’s 11 we thought we’d ramp it up a bit,” her mother, Sharmaine, said. “We don’t want to push too hard. She’s just having fun, so this is a good experience. She played her first 18-hole tournament last month. She’s ready to go to the next step.”
Drive, Chip and Putt has set the standard for inspiring young golfers since its inception in 2013. The rise of Dallas native Jordan Spieth virtually coincided with the debut of Drive, Chip and Putt, producing two massive promotional waves to young golfers.
Preparing for his first Masters in 2014, Spieth watched the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National. (He tied for second at that year's Masters, then won in 2015 at age 21). Later in 2014, The Jordan Spieth Charitable Fund partnered with the NTPGA and Drive, Chip and Putt.
Junior golfers that participate in Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers receive a complimentary NTPGA membership and one free NTPGA tournament. The NTPGA has seen about a 15 percent increase in participation since Spieth’s Masters victory.
“Just in the last five years, as an industry at large, we’ve done a much better job of creating on-ramps for kids,” Harrison said.
“Jordan really moves the needle. He has been wonderful for the game.”
Spieth’s popularity is evident in the large number of kids wearing Under Armour clothing.
Colton Paradise, 10, has been playing since age 3. Decked in Under Armour clothes, he generated a lot of power with a well-honed swing. He hit one drive 184 yards, 14 yards longer than his average. That brought a high five from his father, Jason.
Colton said that Spieth is his favorite player, and he seems determined to follow a similar rise to the PGA Tour. He practices every day and works with a coach once a week.
Asked if he entered Drive, Chip and Putt to win or to just have fun, he smiled.
“I like to compete, and it’s fun to win,” he said.
Photos courtesy of the Northern Texas PGA.