By James Dent
LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Lauryn Leonard was shivering Saturday, and not just from the excitement of competing in the Regional Final qualifying round for the third annual Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.
On an unusually chilly late-summer morning at Valhalla Golf Club that left players, family members and other observers wrapped in jackets and blankets, Leonard won the Girls 7-9 division by two points on the strength of her chipping and putting.
"My favorite part of the day was the chipping, the putting and the driving," said a smiling Leonard, surrounded by excited members of her family. "All of it."
Leonard, 8, of Montgomery, Ala., scored 53 of her 60 points in chipping and putting, including a group-high 22 points with chipping. Leonard was one of eight regional winners at Valhalla who can look forward to spending the first weekend of April 2016 at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Ga., culminating with the National Finals on April 3. Players will use the tournament practice facility for driving and chipping, and will get to putt on the legendary 18th green.
One of those players will be Alyssa Montgomery, 14, of Knoxville, Tenn., who showed that a bad start doesn't have to leak over to the rest of the competition.
After getting off to a rough start by misfiring her first two drives out of bounds, Montgomery bore down in chipping and putting. Giving herself a chance with 25 points in chipping, Montgomery then scored 60 of a possible 75 points in putting and pulled out a two-point win in the Girls 14-15 division.
"It doesn't matter how you start," she said. "You just have to keep going and working at it. Any shot can be the difference."
Weston Miller, of Jackson, Ky., rolled to a win in the Boys 7-9 division, finishing with 96 points as he racked up in chipping (40) and putting (41). He was one of two Kentuckians to earn tickets to Augusta, as he'll be joined by Jay Nimmo, of Benton, whose score of 133 points was 15 points clear of anyone in the Boys 12-13 division.
Nimmo's score, which was beefed up by 65 points in putting, would have won any other age group Saturday except for the Boys 14-15 division. There, Chase Venn, of Columbia, Mo., scored in the 40s in every category and finished with 136 points for a well-earned six-point verdict.
Venn said hitting the fairway with all three of his drives boosted his confidence.
"Once I did that," he said, "I felt I could finish with a good score."
In the Girls 10-11 division, Siena Minor gave Columbia a pair of representatives in Augusta. Scoring 41 of her 81 points in putting, Minor won her age group by 14 points.
The Boys 10-11 division went to Owen Bright, of Roanoke, Va., as he amassed 110 points, scoring 40 in chipping and 42 in putting.
Kynadie Adams, of Gallatin, Tenn., earned a repeat trip to Augusta with a solid showing in the Girls 12-13 division, scoring at least 26 points in each category and finishing with 108 points, 17 more than anyone else.
"I've been looking forward to going again and seeing the green jackets," she said.
Who knows? Perhaps one of the players who drove, chipped or putted at Valhalla might get fitted for a green jacket one day.