Qualifier Spotlight: Junior Golfers Hold Their Own at Cantigny

June 27, 2016 | By Claire Hillman

A crowd of proud parents and families erupted into cheer around the chipping green at Cantigny Golf Club in Wheaton, Ill., on Saturday, June 25, as two young golfers showed off their skills. This applause rang through the Drive, Chip and Putt event after Om Sawant, 7, and Ryan Baer, 12, side-by-side holed their chips for 25 points a piece. Om, who has been playing golf since he was 4, finished first overall in the Boys 7-9 age division with a score of 93.

Ryan, on the other hand, is a committed hockey player most of the year. “He only practices golf for about a week every year,” said Ryan’s dad. “He’s our very own Happy Gilmore!” Such displays of youthful talent and determination were plentiful around the competition area, ensuring smiles and high fives from all.

The afternoon sun beat down as competition heated up on the course. Golfers from ages 6-15 congregated around the putting green and driving range to fine tune their shots before setting out to compete. Ranging from DCP veterans to brand new golfers, the children on the course were vying for three qualifying spots per age and gender division to the sub-regional event at Sportsman’s Country Club in Northbrook, Ill., in August.

The qualifier at Cantigny was a first-time experience for Christopher Schwartz, who competed in the 7-9 age division. He just started playing golf a year ago after his video game console sparked an interest in golf. “After he started to play golf on his Wii console, he asked us for some real lessons,” said Christopher’s mom, “and his coach tells us he’s going to be the next big thing.”

Another rookie on the course was 6-year-old Payton Sauseda. Competing in the Girls 7-9 age division, Payton’s performance on Saturday was her very first time playing organized golf.

"We just saw an advertisement for the competition and thought it would be fun,” said Payton’s dad. “I took her out in the backyard earlier this week for some practice shots, but other than that she’s never swung a club in her life.”

Payton tied for first place in the putt section and third in chipping. “After a few lessons, maybe she’ll rule the world!” said Payton’s mom as they walked off with a handful of ribbons.

Patrick Lynch, the Cantigny Golf Club Head Golf Professional and Illinois PGA Youth Player Development Committee member, said they have been hosting Drive, Chip and Putt events at Cantigny Golf Club since they began in 2013. With their Youth Links and caddie training programs, Cantigny prides itself on its commitment to youth golf development.

“It’s always great to see the kids come with their parents and siblings,” said Lynch. “It is a great excuse for the whole family to get together and play the game.”

By his side and volunteering for the event all day were Lynch’s own kids. “The best thing to see is the joy that the kids feel when they make a great shot. They can’t help but smile from ear to ear.”