Smiles aplenty at Drive, Chip and Putt finals
Taighan Chea rolled in a long putt on 18 to create an Augusta roar of his own Sunday.
“It felt like I won the Masters,” Chea said.
Smiles like the one Chea wore after winning the Boys 7-9 division were found throughout Augusta National Golf Club during the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
In what’s become an annual event to kick off Masters Week, the Drive, Chip and Putt finals is a joint initiative by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and PGA of America aimed at promoting golf to youth in the form of a nationwide competition.
After qualifying rounds to narrow down the field, the region winners come together for a national finals between Augusta National’s practice area for driving and chipping, and the 18th green for putting.
Chea, from Bothell, Wash., made his second putt from 15 feet to help secure the title in his age group, drawing a loud ovation from patrons surrounding the green.
“It felt like it was to win and I just had to make it,” Chea said. “I was nervous. That last kid, Miles (Russell), he was in the lead and I was so nervous when he hit his first putt.”
Sara Im, from Duluth, Ga., won the Girls 12-13 group by also performing well on the green. Her 26 cumulative points outlasted Bailey Shoemaker’s 24 for the trophy.
Im, who competed in the national finals for the first time, was simply grateful to be on the grounds at Augusta National and entered without expectations.
“I didn’t really expect to win,” Im said. “I was just happy to come here. It’s really exciting, because not a lot of people get to come here and play, so that’s really good.”
Close finishes were the norm in this year’s chapter of the finals.
Seven of the eight winners claimed titles by three points or fewer, including a tiebreaking win for Brendan Valdes in Boys 14-15. Valdes, from Orlando, Fla., rallied after trailing the first two events by winning on the green to overtake Josh Lavely. A playoff putt determined the title in Valdes' favor.
Tip Price, of Greenville, S.C., won the Boys 10-11. P.J. Maybank III, of Cheboygan, Mich., won the Boys 12-13 in his second attempt in the finals.
Ella June Hannant, of Pikeville, N.C., won the Girls 7-9. Vanessa Borovilos, of Toronto, inched past Gloria Nip for the Girls 10-11 championship. The Girls 14-15 title went to Katherine Schuster of Kill Devil Hills, N.C.
A popular part of the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals is former Masters Tournament champions joining the players for award ceremonies, and this year was no exception.
Former champions who congratulated the competitors and took photos with them included Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Gary Player, Ben Crenshaw and defending champion Sergio Garcia.
Scott watched several players warm up before the event and soaked in the talent of the young competitors.
“It has a positive effect on junior golf, so I’m all for that, for sure,” Scott said. “I like standing at the back of the range and watching some of these kids swing. It’s pretty impressive.”