By Chris Rocheford
JULY 15, 2016
On a beautiful, sunny day in Hastings, Minn., Emerald Greens Golf Course was scattered with junior hopefuls looking to keep their dream of reaching Augusta National alive. A field of more than 200 youth golfers competed to become one of the 24 golfers to advance to the subregional qualifier, one step closer to the ultimate goal of qualifying for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on Sunday, April 2, 2017, the weekend prior to the Masters Tournament.
Fourteen-year-old Aayushi Sarkar, a National Finalist in 2015, finished second in the girls 14-15 division to advance. “The experience two years ago was awesome,” she said smiling. “I had a really good time.”
The support and encouragement given to the participants was contagious. There were family members and friends exchanging handshakes, high-fives and hugs with the participants. Among those family members was Aayushi’s mother, Reema.
“Aayushi had an amazing experience meeting [Jordan] Spieth and Tiger [Woods]. She wants go back badly,” added Reema.
In addition to the familiar faces, there were also new ones who advanced to the second stage of qualifying at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn.
Nicholas Lechtenberg, a 13-year-old from Stewartville, Minn., advanced for the first time in his three years of being a participant. “I have never made it to the sub-regional,” he said, giddy about his accomplishment. “In the past, it is usually one drive or chip that has hurt me.”
Nicholas serves as a prime example of hard work and dedication. Last year he missed qualifying by just three points with a total of 79, good enough to be named an alternate. This year, he scored 125 points to advance to the subregional qualifier. He added close to 50 more yards on his drives and improved his score at the chipping station from 12 to 40.
It is safe to say his dedication and persistence paved the way for him to achieve his goals, inspiring many more participants who do not advance initially.
Nicholas wasn’t the only source of inspiration at this Drive, Chip and Putt local qualifier. Heather Goodfellow, a seven-year-old who was diagnosed with autism, participated in the local competition. Not only did she compete, but Heather took third place in the putting skill with a total of 31 points.
Though she did not advance, that didn’t deter her from cracking a smile when asked whether or not she enjoyed playing golf. “Yeah!” Heather exclaimed.
The Drive, Chip and Putt competition is full of passion and emotion with each participant having his or her own story to tell, a story that for many kids is only just the beginning.