By Andrew Blair
BETHESDA, MD. – Bach Ngo of Frederick, Md., couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.
At the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship regional qualifier at Congressional Country Club on Sunday, September 20, Ngo was one of eight golfers to advance through this last of three qualifying stages and into the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 3, 2016, the weekend before the Masters.
The 11-year-old Ngo won the Boys’ 10-11 Division after leading the driving competition and tying for second in chipping. The proud grin he wore afterward looked irreversible.
He paused to take in a moment that seemed indescribable.
“I didn’t expect this,” Ngo allowed. “I feel awesome. I don’t know what to say.”
Even though this is an individual competition, no player pursued their goal alone. Among the participants, there were plenty of high-fives, handshakes, pats on the back and youthful giggles to go around—and, in many cases, warm embraces from family, friends and well-wishers.
Paris Fieldings of Suffolk, Va., captured the Girls’ 10-11 Division, outdistancing her fellow participants in driving as well as claiming putting.
“I didn’t make it on previous tries, so I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness,’” said the 10-year-old Fieldings. “This time, I had to make it, so I worked hard.
“My driving and putting were fine. Chipping? I barely made it, but I did it.”
Brian Feinstein of McLean, Va., paced the Boys’ 14-15 Division. In windy conditions, he blasted one of his drives 250-plus yards en route to accumulating 56 points.
His story is one of determination and perseverance. Feinstein was an alternate after local qualifying, but a spot opened up at the sub-regional at the River Bend Club, his home course in northern Virginia. There, he finished second to advance to Congressional. Now he’s headed to the hallowed grounds at Augusta National.
“It’s never been a thought besides going to watch the Masters,” said Feinstein, the nephew of award-winning golf writer John Feinstein.
Meanwhile, Sophie Guo of Bluffton, S.C., ran away with the Girls’ 14-15 age group, leading the way in driving (59 points) and putting (55 points). The nine-hour car ride with her dad from the family’s home proved well worth the trip. Guo, 14, qualified in her last year of age eligibility.
“I am excited to win. This is my second time trying and my first time getting to Augusta,” she said.
In the Boys’ 12-13 category, North Carolinian Daniel Adkins cozied his last putt of the event, a 30-footer, to within inches of the hole to edge Winston Matthews by a single point.
“It was pretty nice,” said Adkins, 13, of Holly Springs, N.C. Showing great sportsmanship, Adkins congratulated Matthews afterward. “I was happy to get it close because I know the 30-footer is the hardest one.”
The Girls’ 12-13 age bracket was nearly as close, with Nicole Adam getting past Rylie Heflin by two points. Adam placed in the top three in each of the three categories.
“It’s amazing. It’s pressure. All the shots count,” Adam said with a wide smile. “You just have to let it go.”
Adam and her parents moved to Pinehurst, N.C., from Northeast Ohio three months ago. The relocation proved to be well-timed. Adam has been able to play more golf and is now being coached by Donna Andrews, a former Curtis Cup participant, as well as an LPGA and USGA veteran.
“She just told me to play with what I have,” Adam said.
Behind a masterful putting performance in which he scored a perfect 75 points, 8-year-old Hugh Faulkner of Greenville, S.C., dominated the Boys’ 7-9 Division. He was the only player in the qualifier to collect all of the possible points in putting.
His key to succeeding on the greens?
“Don’t think as hard,” Faulkner said with a smile. “I’m good at putting, so I knew I could do something good.”
Nine-year-old Angelina Tolentino of Mount Laurel, N.J., secured the final spot in the Congressional qualifier. She was stoked by totaling an impressive 50 points in chipping.
“I had a good time. I really liked the chipping. I got all of them close and almost got one in the hole,” Tolentino said.
Each qualifier is headed to Augusta with talent and a great outlook on their side.