LA JOLLA, Calif. – A past National Champion booked her return ticket to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals after two years away and another National Finalist booked his return ticket after a year off.
Another player overwhelmed his nearest competition by 26 points – in his last opportunity to qualify for the National Finals – by putting on a driving exhibition at Torrey Pines that would have impressed the PGA Tour players who frequent the course every January for the Farmers Insurance Open.
All of them played understudy at the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier to a couple of 9-year-olds who made history in the dark.
Yes, the sun may have set over the nearby Pacific Ocean, but it didn’t set on Grace Oh of La Canada, Calif., and Randli Olsen of South Jordan, Utah, a couple of fearless 9-year-olds who competed in the first playoff in the Torrey Pines regional’s history.
With the sun a memory and the playoff format of one shot per discipline getting its first workout in this regional, Oh prevailed in the Girls 7-9 division, 22-12. She got over her nerves on the putting green to earn two points in the putting skill competition. She managed 10 points for her chip and 10 with her driver – the club she said she’s “liked the best since I was born.” Olsen, meanwhile, got five points for her putt, one for her chip and six for her drive.
“I was very confident on my driver. I hit it hard and straight,” said a calm Oh.
This bit of event history came after the two finished the Girls 7-9 division – the last of the eight age-group divisions – tied with 81 points after Oh won the driving discipline with 29 points and Olsen won the chipping discipline with 40 points.
“I was very surprised because we looked at the scoreboard and we saw it was tied. I wondered, ‘What are we going to do?’” Oh said. “One of the volunteers who helped us said, ‘You guys are going on a playoff.’ We were like, ‘Oh.’ We were very surprised.”
Both of Olsen’s parents work at Glenmoor Golf Course in South Jordan, Utah. Her father Joey is the superintendent and her mother Darcy is a golf pro, which explains Olsen’s calm and placid demeanor. She displayed a maturity beyond her years, shaking off any disappointment at missing a trip to Augusta National in only her second Drive, Chip and Putt appearance.
“No, (I’m not disappointed). Not really. I’m just so glad I can be here with my parents at Torrey Pines,” Olsen said. “I was happy with the way I played.”
That also describes the performances of Lucy Yuan of nearby San Diego and Cole Kim of La Crescenta, Calif. Both returned to the regional at Torrey Pines and both earned a return trip to Augusta National after neither managed to advance past subregionals a year ago.
Yuan, who won the National Champion title for the Girls 10-11 division at the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, won the Girls 12-13 division at Torrey Pines with 147 points. She dominated with both her driver, earning a division-best 61 points, and her putter, earning 55 points. In doing so, she prevailed over a deep division featuring three other past National Finalists: Mia Cepeda of Kaaawa, Hawaii; Alexis Vakasiuola of San Tan Valley, Ariz.; and Kristina Xu of Claremont, Calif. Both Cepeda and Vakasiuola advanced from this regional last year.
“Last year, my short game wasn’t together, and I didn’t perform as well as I should have. But that’s fine. I learned from my mistakes and I improved to today,” said Yuan, who played in a San Diego Junior Golf Association’s Tough as Steel Team Cup at Torrey Pines in the morning. “I worked a lot on my putting and chipping, how to get my feel down and not changing too much between shots. My short game is even better now.
“I feel like the (Augusta) experience is going to be a lot less nerve-wracking for me. I’ve experienced the tournament, I’ve experienced the players and now, it’s like going back and repeating what I’ve done.”
Kim, whose 151 points gave him the Boys 10-11 division title by 31 points, won this regional in 2017 and went on to finish fourth in the National Finals. He talked excitedly about the experience of putting on Augusta National’s 18th green and how he can’t wait to get back there. When he returns next spring, he’ll be bringing a hot putter that earned him a perfect score of 75 points in the putting discipline.
“I did OK. I finished fourth. But I learned Augusta’s greens are really fast,” he said. “I also learned if I try hard, I can make it to Augusta and I did. I remember practicing on the greens, and I remember the green speeds.”
None of that will follow Nicholas Kilgore of Las Vegas, who will make his first Augusta pilgrimage in his last year of Drive, Chip and Putt eligibility. Kilgore dominated the Boys 14-15 division with the day’s best score – 172 points. He scored at least 60 points out of a possible 75 in two of the three disciplines, and his 67 points in driving won that discipline while also turning heads and dropping jaws.
“I’ve always been powerful off the tee. I don’t really know how I hit it this far, because I’m skinny. I don’t know how. I just do,” said the 5-foot-8-inch Kilgore, who was blasting nearly 300-yard drives into the wind.
While Oh, Yuan, Kim and Kilgore will travel to the National Finals next spring, so will fellow age-group winners Sofina Firouzi of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., who won the Girls 14-15 division with 133 points; Ryan Sefrioui, of Scottsdale, Ariz., who scored 140 points to win the Boys 12-13 division by two; Jessica Hudson of San Marcos, Calif., who won the Girls 10-11 division by two points with her score of 120 and Pierson Huyck of Phoenix, Ariz., who scored 142 points in the Boys 7-9 division to beat two friends he made on the golf course: Alejandro Sebastian Fischer (112) and Maverick Midthun (110).
All are in for a treat that every one of them has watched on TV.
“When I watched this, I think it’s pretty cool and I thought I would like to have that opportunity,” Sefrioui said. “Regardless of outcome, I want to meet the players and have fun at Augusta.
“Because it’s Augusta.”