Scott Michaux: Drive, Chip and Putt provides Sunday magic a week early
Gary Player was halfway down the row congratulating the 12- and 13-year-old boys finalists when he reached Jordan Jurmu of Marquette, Mich.
Jurmu – who finished last in his age group – removed his cap and reached his hand toward the 79-year-old nine-time major champion.
“You’re the only one who took your hat off,” Player belted out with his signature enthusiasm. “Well done!”
Suddenly the rest of the boys couldn’t take their hats off quickly enough. Another lesson delivered by the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
“As Winston Churchill said, ‘Manners maketh the man,’ ” Player added.
If it’s possible, the second installment of the Drive, Chip and Putt was even better and more inspirational than the first. A gloriously sunny Easter Sunday welcomed 80 finalists from ages 7 to 15 to Augusta National Golf Club, and the kids delivered another series of priceless moments.
From the leaping reaction and electric smile of 9-year-old winner Effie Perakis after she drained the 30-foot putt on the 18th green to the crestfallen grimace of returning champion Kelly Xu after she blew both her putts well past.
From 15-year-old champion Toby Wilson’s casual, fist-bumping encounter with 1992 Masters champ Freddie Couples to 13-year-old Morgan Goldstein’s perfect sweep in her division.
It was the kind of motivational stuff that the PGA of America, the U.S. Golf Association and Augusta National Golf Club were trying to create by co-sponsoring this youth initiative on America’s most storied golf venue.
“It’s really forward-thinking of Augusta National to put this on and make another contribution to the game of golf,” said 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott, who for the second straight year participated in presenting trophies in the shadow of the clubhouse while wearing his green jacket.
“It’s great,” said three-time Masters winner Nick Faldo. “The initiative is amazing, because for many, hundreds of thousands or millions of people, just to step inside the gates of Augusta National is special. But an opportunity for them to come here and compete and what it does for the enthusiasm – what an incentive for youngsters. Your goal, or your reward, is to come here. It’s fantastic.”
It was the place as much as the experience that moved the kids, with each of the winners citing “being on the 18th green” or “practicing on this amazing course” or “driving down Magnolia Lane” as the best parts of their day instead of taking home the trophy.
The event has quickly transformed what was once the calm before the Masters storm into an emotional affair.
The Sunday before the Masters used to be a regular country club day, with members and guests playing the course in between players getting a final quiet round of practice before the course teemed with patrons come Monday morning.
Now the Masters field takes a back seat to the kids – and often the pros spend their morning watching a generation that aspires to eventually take their place.
“To be able to have something like this to shoot for at that age is such an opportunity,” 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman said. “There’ll be a time that one of these kids will win this tournament one day and they’ll say, ‘The first time I was here was for the Drive, Chip and Putt.’ Imagine how cool that will be. If you’re going to have something that lasts forever, it’s got to be cultivated at grass roots like this. Then 10, 20 or 30 years down the line you start seeing the fruits of great ideas like this.”
The latest great idea was having eight former Masters champions take part in doling out the hardware to the finalists.
Other than Faldo breaking 9-year-old Jay Leng Jr.’s trophy, it was a perfect mingling of generations. In the case of Player, he doled out plenty of wisdom as well.
“You have to exercise every day of your life,” he told Shane Ffrench, who won the putting portion for his division.
“Just remember, the reason Tiger Woods was a champion wasn’t because of his driving, it’s because he was the best from 100 yards and in,” he told chipping champion Ben Stone.
“Honor your father and mother or you’ll get knocked down,” he told Ffrench again, with a chop toward the throat for emphasis.
Immelman, who presented with his countryman, was once in the same place as these young boys.
“I was hearing it from the age of 5, and as I get older I realize how right he was,” Immelman said. “I’ll hear it again today when I play with him. Some of the things I’m still trying to learn that he’s been telling me.”
Some of these kids already get it well beyond their years.
Goldstein started out shaking on her first drive but piped her second one 243 yards and notched the first perfect score in the finals, sweeping the drive, chip and putt for 30 points. Next month she’ll compete against last year’s most prominent winner, Lucy Li, in the women’s division of the inaugural U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.
“It just felt amazing to be out there,” she said. “I just needed to concentrate and it was me, the hole and the ball.”
Wilson started dead last with two drives out of bounds but rallied to win the chipping and putting to take the title.
“When I hit those first two drives, I was like, well, it looks like I just started playing golf,” Wilson said. “Then I was like, there’s a guy at Quail Ridge, he was really close to me, Mr. Collins. He’s up there watching me, so I just want to keep playing for him. That’s what kept me going.”
Katherine Schuster, 11, of Kill Devil Hills, N.C., finished third in her age group but ranks first in musical taste citing vintage crooners Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Julius LaRosa as her favorites.
“It keeps me calm,” she said. “Not a lot of my friends like them and think it’s so boring when I play it. Whatever. I don’t care. All of them like One Direction and I just don’t enjoy that.”
Some of those kids at home might think golf is a boring game for old folks. Whatever. The Drive, Chip and Putt has injected life into a once-quiet Sunday as well as the future of the game.
WINNERS AT DRIVE, CHIP AND PUTT CHAMPIONSHIP
Boys 7-9 Jay Leng Jr.
Girls 7-9 Effie Perakis
Boys 10-11 Jake Peacock
Girls 10-11 Lydia Swan
Boys 12-13* George Duangmanee
Girls 12-13 Morgan Goldstein
Boys 14-15 Toby Wilson
Girls 14-15 Alexandra Swayne