DUBLIN, Ohio – It could have rained on the parade of 80 junior golfers competing Saturday in the Drive, Chip and Putt regional qualifier at Muirfield Village Golf Club, but that didn’t dampen spirits or dilute competitive effort at the famed course designed by golf legend Jack Nicklaus.
On a day when experience reigned amid soggy conditions, P.J. Maybank of Cheboygan, Mich., and Nolan Haynes of Barberton, Ohio, paved the way for the eight golfers who advanced to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, set for April 7, 2019, the Sunday before the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. Each boy advanced to the National Finals for the third time, and Maybank, 12, gets a chance to defend the national title he won last year in the same 12-13 age division.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a year, wanting to get back there to try and win again,” said Maybank, who also competed in the National Finals in 2014 in the 7-9 age group. “It feels amazing to be going back to Augusta.”
Haynes, who went to the National Finals in 2014 and ’16, is headed to Augusta National for a third time thanks to a perfect score of 75 in putting. He competed as a 9-year-old in 2014, and he was 11 when he returned in 2016. That year Haynes won the putting competition and finished second overall in the age 10-11 division.
“Yeah, my goal this time is definitely to try and win it,” Haynes, 13, said. He knew he needed a score of at least 60 in putting to win. As he made his way to the putting green, he told his father, Todd, “I can do that.” Then he sank all three putts from 5, 15 and 30 feet.
Another player returning to the National Finals is Madilyn Newman, 14, of Knoxville, Tenn., who will make her second appearance at Augusta National after competing in the 2017 edition. Newman won the girls 14-15 age division on Saturday thanks to first place in the driving portion of the competition. She was the 2017 Girls 12-13 national champion in putting, but missed out on the overall title.
“I’ve changed my chipping style so that I might have a better chance overall,” said Newman, who got started in golf after watching the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. “I’m extremely excited to be going back since this is my last year to compete.”
After hosting a subregional in 2015 and ’16, Muirfield Village welcomed one of the 10 regional qualifiers for the second year in a row. The first regional conducted this year was staged on the opulent practice facility and the large practice putting green at Muirfield Village, annual site of the Memorial Tournament, the PGA Tour event that Nicklaus, the six-time Masters champion, founded in 1976 and serves as host.
“This is a great opportunity for us. The members enjoy it and have really gotten behind it,” said Muirfield Village head golf professional Larry Dornisch. “I had the chance to go down to Augusta and watch the qualifiers from here compete, and that was a lot fun. And it’s fun seeing what the kids are doing today. We think Muirfield Village is a great spot for this competition.”
“The Drive, Chip and Putt is a great event because it really translates to the aspects of golf on a course – and we’re at this incredible venue, an incredible golf course,” said Derek Tincher, director of player development for the Southern Ohio PGA Section. “We’re very fortunate to host this at a course where the pros play, and then eight lucky kids are going to Augusta National. You can’t do better than that combination.”
Sophie Stevens of Novi, Mich., who came in third in her division at last year’s regional at Muirfield Village, was the winner in the Girls 12-13 division, while Beka Yang of Sylvania, Ohio, was first in Girls 10-11. Both won the chipping competition, while Stevens also was first in driving. Paige Radebach, 9, of Webberville, Mich., sank her last putt from 30 feet on the way to winning the Girls 7-9 age division.
“This is a dream come true,” Stevens said with a huge grin.
Other boys winners were Sahish Reddy, 10 of Duluth, Ga., who dominated by winning both the driving and chipping to capture the title in the 10-11 age group, and Mike Quallich of Pittsburgh, Pa., who used his driving performance to win the 7-9 category. Reddy is the fourth returnee to Augusta from this site, having qualified in the Boys 10-11 last year from TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla
“On a scale of one to a million, it feels like a million,” Quallich said about his excitement level for going to Augusta National.
He’s probably far from the only one who feels that way.