Thirty states are represented in the eighth edition of the National Finals
They arrived in Augusta this weekend from all over the United States, checking into a downtown Augusta hotel with their families, practicing on Saturday afternoon at The River Club in North Augusta, S.C., and itching to see and play golf at the famed Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday at the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
With 30 states represented, led by California and Georgia at seven participants each, it was a widespread pilgrimage to Augusta for the eighth playing of the DCP. This year’s 80 participants, of which eight are returning players, bring the total DCPers to 577 boys and girls since the first event in 2014. As an added dimension, full attendance by patrons is expected on Sunday morning, the day after a large group came to view the final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur on Saturday.
I think about everybody who has played there. Now I’ll be able to experience it. That will be amazing.
The farthest traveler is Leo Saito, a Boys 10-11 participant from Hilo, Hawaii, who tries to emulate his hero Tiger Woods by wearing a lucky Woods cap.
“I thought, ‘Wow, kids can go to the Masters?’” said Saito, who watched last year’s Drive, Chip and Putt on Golf Channel, was inspired and then qualified.
Even for those who live near Augusta National, the whole vibe is quite exhilarating.
Three Augustans are in Sunday’s field, which is significant for a mid-sized city, despite the golf heritage of native sons in the Masters such as 1987 Masters Tournament champion Larry Mize and Charles Howell III. Hamilton Coleman of Evans (Boys 12-13), Lyla Hawker of Ft. Gordon (Girls 7-9) and Zane Madison of Evans (Boys 7-9) are representing this week. Coleman and Madison play out of West Lake Country Club, and Madison’s father, Cole, is a scorer for the Masters. Coleman’s mother makes homemade pimento cheese during the Masters. Hawker’s father is in the Army at nearby Ft. Gordon.
“My family and I drive by Augusta National all the time,” Coleman said. “And I think about everybody who has played there. Now I’ll be able to experience it. That will be amazing.”
The last event before Sunday’s gathering was a Saturday night function at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Augusta, headlined by the leaders of United States golf organizations hosting the players and their immediate family members. An outdoor group photograph preceded the early evening gathering, where a panel discussion was moderated by Peter Jacobson of NBC and the Golf Channel. He was joined by Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Fred Ridley, United States Golf Association President Stu Francis and PGA of America President Jim Richerson.
DCP participants asked questions about business, the way to get better at golf and a particular question for Chairman Ridley: What is his favorite hole at Augusta National and his top spot to view the Masters.
Chairman Ridley indicated he favored the par-5 15th because “psychologically it is how it makes you feel, and every once in a while, I hit a good enough drive to hit the green in two. I get the feeling I can hit the green, a great thing to have that positive state of mind looking down from the top of the hill.” He also indicated he liked standing behind the 12th tee, viewing play on Nos. 11 and 13 all from the same place at Amen Corner.
The golfers ages 7 to 15 will begin arriving at Augusta National before sunup on Sunday and make their way to the Tournament Practice Area for the driving competition and to a nearby practice green for the chipping contest before moving on to the 18th green on the opposite side of the Clubhouse for the putting finale.
The competition will be televised live on Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. and concluding in the early afternoon. Thanks to the tandem of the Drive, Chip and Putt and the Saturday final round of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur – whose competitors range in age from 15 to 22 – the weekend before the Masters has become a motivational youth movement.
Drive, Chip and Putt participants compete in four age divisions for national championships, accumulating points in three skills: driving distance, chipping and putting. The latter two categories are measured by proximity to the hole. The highest composite score determines the winner for an event that was developed in 2014 by the Masters along with the United States Golf Association and PGA of America.