The Drive, Chip and Putt National competition at the Masters is similar to the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition. Both get kids involved in the sports in a fun, competitive environment.
The competition this year was opened to junior golfers ages 7 to 15. Boys and girls competed in separate divisions in four age categories.
There was a series of qualifiers – local, sub-regional and regional – prior to the final competition the Sunday before the Masters Tournament. Tens of thousands of kids participated in all 50 states and Canada to qualify to go to the Masters.
Three of our local junior girls participated in the qualifiers at different sites and were very successful.
Lexi Milbrandt, 9, of Hilton Head Island, went to the state qualifiers at Callawassie Island and Columbia. She made it through the first two stages and went to Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Md., for the regionals, but she was unable to make the finals.
Only the top two golfers from regionals make it to Augusta.
Sophie Guo of Bluffton qualified for the Masters competition by qualifying first at Callawassie, the sub-regional at Fort Gordon Golf Club, and she won the 14-15 age group at Congressional in Maryland.
Guo will be competing against nine other finishers in the 14-15 age group. Sophie’s home course is Bear Creek in Hilton Head. She began playing golf at age 11 and now carries a handicap index of +2.9. She was an AJGA Champion this past summer.
Sophia Burnett, 13, of Bluffton went to the Georgia local and sub-regional qualifiers and ended up going to the regional qualifier at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, Fla., where she won and became one of only 80 kids to be invited to Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters. She will compete in the girls’ ages 12-13 division against nine other girls from all over the U.S. and Canada. Sophia has been playing competitive golf since age 10 and already has a handicap of 2.3.
Her only teacher has been her dad, who is a former collegiate player and coach. “I treat my dad as my teacher, not my dad,” Sophia said.
She is excited to be going to Augusta National to compete for this prestigious award. “I practice every day and feel that my best club is my putter.”
Her dad purchased rings to put around the hole on the practice green, and she practices chipping and putting into the rings. “On the driving range at Colleton River, my home course, I hit drives between a five-yard opening so that I will be focused on hitting a straight drive,” she said.
In the actual competition the fairway is 40 yards wide, and point values will be given for various distances in the fairway.
The 2016 finals at Augusta National took place April 3 (after press time).
In my next column I will let you know how Sophie and Sophia did in the competition. No matter the results, we are proud to have such fine junior golfers in our community.
Registration for the 2017 event is already underway at www.drivechipand putt.com, with a local qualifier at Callawassie Golf Club in July.
Dr. Jean Harris is an LPGA Master Professional and teaches at Brown Golf Management courses. firstname.lastname@example.org; www.golfdoctorjean.com