By Tom Lerubino
A crystal-clear morning started with 141 junior golfers – boys and girls ages 7-15 – competing in the Drive, Chip and Putt subregional qualifier on August 23 at Fiddler’s Elbow Country Club in Bedminster, N.J. It ended with eight girls and eight boys advancing to the regional qualifier on September 24 at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., putting them one step closer to the National Finals on Sunday, April 2, 2017, at Augusta National Golf Club.
For 14-year-old Gavin Rau, the first-place finisher in the boys’ 14-15 division, all the practice time he has put in this summer at Quail Brook Golf Course in his hometown of Somerset, N.J., paid off as he advanced to the regional qualifier for the first time in three tries.
In accumulating 149 points (49 driving, 40 chipping, 60 putting), Rau was the only competitor in any of the age groups (both boys and girls) to place in the top three in all three categories. He finished third in driving and second in both chipping and putting. He was especially pleased with his driving.
“That was the key. I never hit all three drives in the grid before,” said Rau, who is about to start his freshman year at Immaculata High School in Somerville, N.J.
Golfers received points in the three categories that make up the name of the competition. The top two in each age division – 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 – for boys and girls advanced to the regional qualifier at Baltusrol.
In addition to the gold, silver and bronze medals for the top three competitors in each category, similar prizes were awarded in each of the individual disciplines.
For 14-year-old Riddhi Singh of Marlboro, N.J., winning the girls’ 14-15 division was just the start of a busy day. Singh went right from the golf course to the clubhouse to take an online class, from which she took a brief recess to receive her first-place overall medal as well as medals for finishing first in putting and third in driving. She has just started her freshman year as part of the Stanford University Online High School, and participated in two classes following the qualifier before heading home.
There were parents and grandparents on hand to watch the competitors, and some families had more than one child competing. After Zoey Woloff of New York City finished second in putting and fifth overall in the girls’ 7-9 division, she kept close tabs on her brother Zachary’s progress in the boys’ 10-11 division. Zachary used a first-place finish in driving to place second overall to advance to the regional qualifier at Baltusrol.
The Chowdary sisters of Belle Mead, N.J., Tanya and Tiya, competed in the girls’ 10-11 and 14-15 divisions, respectively. Tanya finished second in chipping in her age group, while Tiya finished third overall in hers to earn first alternate status. Last year, Tiya advanced to the National Finals in the 12-13 division.
Another sister act featured Anushka and Rashi Savant of Monmouth Junction, N.J. Anushka, 10, finished first in chipping and first overall in the girls’ 10-11 division, while Rashi competed in the 14-15 division.
As each of the eight age divisions – four for girls, four for boys – finished with two golfers from each advancing to the regional qualifier, players and parents gathered around the electronic scoring screen to view the results. There was anticipation, elation and disappointment.
But those who moved on to the next stage in the competition were not the only winners. As one parent said to another parent’s 8-year-old son: “You know what the best prize is? That you’re here, that you had fun, right?” The youngster smiled and nodded.
Photos courtesy of the New Jersey PGA.