Spring break was starting at Johnnycake Corners Elementary School in Galena, Ohio, so the whole fourth grade was ready for a party.
Typically there isn’t a guest of honor for such occasions. Then again, typically one of the elementary school classmates isn’t heading off to compete at Augusta National Golf Club to produce a “What I did for spring break” project that trumps most fourth-grade presentations.
Mia Raines, 10, will be among the 80 finalists in Sunday’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National, so her school sent her off in style.
“They had a surprise party for her at school,” said Mia’s mom, Michelle. “She had friends come over and decorate her room with balloons and streamers and posters, and today they had a big party for her at school with posters and handwritten cards from kids and teachers and all the fourth-grade classes. It was pretty special.”
Each of the kids who qualified for the third Drive, Chip and Putt final has a unique story about reaching this destination. Mia Raines has come further than most to get here.
Born in China’s Jiangsu province, Mia was adopted when she was 13 months old by Nolan and Michelle Raines. Even though she’s the youngest, Mia is the second of three girls the Raines adopted. Leila, 14, was adopted first, from Moscow. Kara, 17, joined the family at age 11 from China.
All three girls have taken up golf and improved to the point where their parents no longer play with them. When Mia was asked about her dream foursome that would include Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Michelle Wie, it comes with an addendum – “But can my sisters play with us, too?”
When the Raineses fell in “love at first sight” with a 7-month-old Mia after the adoption referral, there was no second thought about the girl’s two heart defects, including a hole.
“We were told she might have to have open heart surgery and we wouldn’t know until we got her back here in the U.S. to see doctors,” her mother said. “But she’s never had any problems. We’ve been really blessed and we go see her cardiologist on a regular basis and it’s proved to be no problem. If you see our daughter, she’s got the energy of 10 kids.”
Mia started playing golf when she was 3 and her father would take the girls to the driving range on the weekend. She started competing when she was 6 with a personal-best nine-hole score of 35.
Her career goal? “I want to be a professional golfer or basketball player who also rescues animals,” she said.
Mia will have one significant handicap to overcome when she gets to Augusta: It will be the first time all year she’s played on actual grass. Living in Ohio, the offseason confines her to practicing in the family’s basement for six months, hitting into a net and putting on a 13-foot artificial practice green. Once a week she works with her coach at the driving range, hitting balls out of a heated bay from a mat.
“She’s been practicing hard, but it has not included real grass,” her mom said. “It’s challenging because they compete against girls from much warmer climates. On the other hand, having a clear offseason helps them so they don’t get burned out.”
A year ago, Mia barely missed out on making it to Augusta when she was 9, finishing runner-up in the regional finals. She watched the 2015 finals on television, rooting for fellow Ohioan Alexandra Swayne, who competes regularly with her sister Leila in the 14-15 age division.
“It made me want it more,” Mia said.
She would not be denied in her regional return at Oakmont, winning by 11 points overall while beating the field in chipping.
“I might have been a little nervous but I was more confident in how I’ve improved my skills over the year,” she said.
Leila, who led her Berkshire Middle School boys team to a 16-0 season, made it as far as the subregional and will try one last time next year to make it to Augusta. Kara, who has verbally committed to play golf at Youngstown State, is too old to participate in the Drive, Chip and Putt.
The whole family is excited about coming to Augusta and experiencing the Masters. Nolan Raines attended a Masters before Mia was born, but the rest of the family has never been to Augusta.
“I’m excited to be there because I get to compete with the best of the best,” Mia said. “It’s just a beautiful course to see and I think it’s just a great experience.”
“Leila loves Golf Channel and watches the app on her phone or on TV all the time,” their mother said. “She’s my diehard golf junkie 24/7 and appreciates the significance of the Masters. Kara is excited to go, too. I’m a photographer and am very visual, so to be able to see that gorgeous course and walk it and see all the players has me really excited.”
Once her competition is over, Mia wants to follow her favorites during Monday’s practice round – particularly Day, who lives not far from their Galena home. During last year’s PGA Championship when Day outdueled Spieth in a final pairing of Mia’s two favorites (her lucky hat has autographs from both on it), the whole family cheered so loudly from their basement that
“I think the neighbors heard.”
“Day lives close by, but he’s also a great golfer and a good dad,” Mia said. “I really like Jordan Spieth, too. He’s a great golfer and a good big brother.”
Now it’s Mia’s turn to have people cheering for her. If things go well, Johnnycake Corners might have to throw another party to welcome her back from spring break.
“She has quite the little fan club here in Galena, Ohio,” her mother said.