Boyette: Next generation of golf in good hands
Golf’s past, present and future converged at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday.
A familiar tableau unfolded at the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, and this time Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Jennifer Kupcho joined the group of past Masters champions to present trophies to the youth. All the while, current stars such as Aiken’s Kevin Kisner and former stars including Augusta's Larry Mize teed off to get in a practice round.
The day started with rain, but not even Mother Nature could put a damper on an event that Augusta National loves to sowcase. By mid-morning the rain was gone and Kupcho and last year’s Masters winner, Patrick Reed, were handing out trophies for the Girls 7-9 category.
“To see all these kids be able to come into such an amazing place like Augusta National, to have the opportunity to hit balls on the driving range,” Reed, the former Augusta State star, told Golf Channel. “To be able to make putts on 18 where Masters champions had to stand up and make a putt there. I wish I was able to do that when I was a little kid. It’s such an awesome experience for them. And it’s awesome to come out and see all the kids and have them smiling and having fun with each other.”
Reed, Sergio Garcia, Mark O’Meara, Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Nick Faldo, Ben Crenshaw and Mike Weir were the past champions who presented trophies in each of the eight categories. Now in its sixth year, the Drive, Chip and Putt continues to get bigger each year, with thousands of young golfers competing for the 80 slots in Augusta.
Reed and Kupcho were impressed with Girls 7-9 winner Angela Zhang, who hit her drive 189 yards. She won in that category and in chipping and finished second in putting for a near-perfect score of 29.
“We were like, that’s insane,” Kupcho said. “That’s really long for a little girl to hit it. It’s kind of crazy how good the game’s getting.”
Kupcho is still coming to terms with her victory Saturday in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. She wound up with more than 200 text messages, and she’s scheduled to appear on NBC’s "Today" show on Monday morning.
“It was crazy to see the way social media blew up for that tournament,” she said between signing autographs.
She said the young women competing Sunday in the Drive, Chip and Putt will now want to play the women’s amateur.
“I think it’s something they’ll always look forward to. It’s going to be their goal in life now,” she said. “Obviously, they’ll want to turn professional. But to play on Augusta National is just a great honor, especially for women. I think it’s a great opportunity for little girls.”
The feel-good atmosphere from Saturday’s women’s amateur spilled over into Sunday. The kids smashed drives, chipped it close, and Garret Ebbert and Sophia Li each sank both of their putts on the 18th hole. As the 83rd Masters unfolds this week, clutch putting like that will come in handy.
Watson, who was on hand for the women’s amateur Saturday, wasn’t about to miss out on the Drive, Chip and Putt action. He said both events mean a lot for the future of the game.
“Having a girl, I want her to have any opportunity she wants,” the two-time Masters champion said. “If she wants to be president of the United States, I’ll help her. If she wants to be a golfer, I’ll help her. Avenues like this are going to grow sports in general but also grow the game of golf, not only the women’s side but the boys side.”
Perhaps Augusta National and Masters chairman Fred Ridley put it best.
“We think it’s working,” he told Golf Channel. “Observing the skill and enthusiasm and excitement of these boys and girls, I’m pretty sure that the future is in good hands.”