By Bart Potter
UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Eighty young golfers, ranging in age from 7 to 15, gathered here at the site of the 2015 U.S. Open for a Drive, Chip and Putt Regional Final with the goal of winning their respective age group. Doing so would mean a ticket to the National Finals next April at Augusta National Golf Club.
One theme emerged quickly at Chambers Bay: to advance to the home of the Masters, it helps to be consistent. A competitor only gets nine shots – three drives, three chips, three putts – so a miscue on any one of them can be fatal to an overall score.
A sub-theme also came to the fore: If you can’t be consistent, be dominant in at least one of the three golf skills included in the contest.
Case in point: Ty Briggs, 13, an 8th-grader from Manteca, Calif., who overcame modest performances in chipping (31 points of a possible 75) and putting (42 points) with the best driving performance Saturday of any golfer in any classification.
Briggs had drives of 278, 286 and 273 yards, but just as importantly kept them inside the out-of-bounds cones lining both sides of the driving alley. He compiled 140 points overall to win the Boys’ 12-13 division.
Briggs, a junior tournament veteran, said the DC&P format is more nerve-wracking than a traditional golf tournament.
“It was the most nervous I’ve ever been,” he said of his time on the tee. “My knees were shaking and my hands were sweaty.”
Sofia Young, 15, a sophomore at Benicia (Calif.) High School, showed the virtues of consistency by winning the driving (58 points) and chipping (45) phases and earning fourth in putting (36) on the way to claiming the Girls’ 14-15 division.
Young said she “wasn’t too proud of my putting today,” but she made up ground with her driver.
“I’ve gained a lot of distance since last year,” she said, citing her work with coach Tom Rezendes of NorCal Golf Academy.
Daniel Uranga, a 14-year-old 8th-grader from Wilder, Idaho, almost didn’t get the chance to qualify for the Chambers Bay regional. He was an alternate to the earlier sub-regional event, learning only the day of the event that another competitor had dropped out, opening a spot for him.
Saturday, he took advantage of his good fortune with a strong line: 56 driving, 45 chipping and 60 putting to win the Boys’ 14-15 class. His biggest improvement in his game, he said, is “being more consistent – eliminating the really bad shots.”
Malia Schroeder, 11, a 6th-grader from Arlington, Wash., overcame a poor chipping performance (13 points) by hitting all three of her putts (from six, 15 and 30 feet) close to the hole for 20 points each. She earned a solid 50 points with her driver to score 123 points overall and win the Girls’ 12-13 division.
“I was pretty happy with my drives,” she said. “They didn’t go very far, but I was consistent, and that’s what counts here.”
Cooper Jones, an 11-year-old 5th-grader from Highland, Utah, rode his strong putting to victory in the Boys’ 10-11 division. He sank his first two putts (from six and 15 feet) and hit the 30-foot third putt close to earn 70 of a maximum 75 points. He was eighth in chipping (21 points) and fourth in driving (37).
“I like putting, actually,” he said afterward, adding that he enjoys playing putting games (and winning) against older kids at Alpine Country Club, his home course.
Jayla Kucy of Camrose, Alberta, topped the Girls’ 10-11 division with 123 points, bolstered by a class-leading 50 points in chipping, to win a trip to Augusta for a second straight year.
“I don’t get nervous at all,” the 9-year-old 4th-grader said. “I just play my game.”
Jayden Lizama of Elk Grove, Calif., was solid with his chipping (50 points) to win the Boys’ 7-9 division with 119 points overall. He also kept his drives in-bounds for 28 points.
“My dad says don’t get out of control,” he said of his work on the tee.
Aadyn Long of Lehi, Utah, didn’t putt her best (27 points), but was strong with her chipping (45 points) and driving (41) to score 113 overall and win the Girls’ 7-9 division.
“I did not do good on my putting,” she said, “and that’s usually the best part of my game.”
But as she and the other seven age-group winners realized, the most important aspect to advancing to the next step is embracing the opportunity that Drive, Chip & Putt provides to participants from all over the country.