Young golfers leave with awards, memories at Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals
Kayla Sam stepped toward her holed putt on the 18th green, then stopped.
The Girls 12-13 champion didn’t know what to do. Was she supposed to go get it?
Soon enough, however, Sam had something more important to get. She now had trophies to pick up.
The Anaheim Hills, Calif., girl was one of eight overall champions at Sunday’s Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Eighty finalists competed in four age groups for boys and girls in the event’s third year.
Sam, who needed to get within 6 inches of the hole on her putt to win, will remember the clutch putt whenever she watches television and sees Masters Tournament players on No. 18.
“I was thinking that I had to get as close as possible. I ended up making it,” Sam said. “I was really happy and shocked because I didn’t expect to win.”
The other winners Sunday were Emerson Blair (Girls 7-9, West Point, Miss.), Stephen Robert Hernandez (Boys 7-9, Houston), Alexa Pano (Girls 10-11, Lake Worth, Fla.), Christian Kim (Boys 10-11, Vernon Hills, Ill.), Ty Griggs (Boys 12-13, Manteca, Calif.), Alyssa Montgomery (Girls 14-15, Knoxville, Tenn.) and Michael Thorbjornsen (Boys 14-15, Wellesley, Mass.).
Montgomery said she wasn’t trying to make the 30-foot putt. She instead focused on hitting it close. She made it anyway.
“It’s just incredible,” she said. “I’m so happy because it’s like a once-in-a-lifetime thing. This is my first time doing it; this is my last time I’ll be able to do it. It was just awesome to have this experience.”
During the day’s action, the young competitors met and talked with former champions and current players, including Gary Player and Adam Scott.
Griggs had a particularly memorable Sunday. He finished first overall for his group, and Bubba Watson, a two-time Masters winner, handed out awards to the Boys 12-13 competitors.
“It makes it that much better to meet your favorite golfer,” Griggs said.
When three-time Masters champion Player spoke with the 13-year-old Sam, he heard that her 214.7-yard drive placed first in her group.
“Don’t you want to drive off against (Jack) Nicklaus in my place on Thursday?” Player said.
As each winner walked off the course to cheers from patrons and hugs from family members, the eight young golfers could look up and see their names up on the leaderboard as champions.
“It meant a lot because the professionals get their names on there. Like Jordan Spieth last year,” Hernandez said. “Now me.”
DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT WINNERS
GIRLS 12-13: Kayla Sam
GIRLS 14-15: Alyssa Montgomery
BOYS 7-9: Stephen Hernandez
BOYS 12-13: Ty Griggs
BOYS 14-15: Michael Thorbjornsen