AUGUSTA, Ga. — It’s hard to have a bad time at Augusta National — especially when it’s your first time.
For the competitors at the Drive, Chip & Putt national final, even stepping foot on property is a thrill. There’s nothing like spending a day on these hallowed grounds. And to experience it with childlike joy? It doesn’t get much better.
“It’s obviously heaven,” said Jake Sheffield, who won the boys 14-15 division. “This grass almost doesn’t seem real. It’s just perfect. For a golfer it’s just perfect.”
As the pros competing in the Masters trickled through the gates and down Magnolia Lane Sunday morning, so too did 80 youngsters competing in the DCP final. You could see Bernhard Langer beating balls on the range, flanked by a troop of 8-year-old boys grooving their swings. Or Mike Weir rolling putts on the practice green as a fleet of 10-year-old girls dialed in their short-game feel. Age is but a number on days like these.
As the kids shuffled between the driving range and the 18th green, Jordan Spieth hung out under the massive oak tree outside the clubhouse sporting his green jacket. Nearby, little bucket-hat-clad Sammy Spieth played in the grass. On the 1st tee, Scott Stallings blasted a drive down the fairway while eager patrons looked on. All the while, Drive, Chip & Putt competitors shuttled between the practice facilities and the 18th hole, stopping only to gape at their heroes.
This scene at Augusta National is rare. It only happens once a year. And, until recently, these days never happened at all. The event was founded just nine years ago, and ever since, it’s allowed the stars of tomorrow a sneak peak at competing on the grandest stage in golf. The goal was to create a development competition aimed at growing the game. Hearing contestants speak after the competition, it seems we have a mission accomplished.
“Just coming here was surreal,” said girls 12-13 winner Maya Palanza Gaudin. “I’ve always wanted to come to Augusta. It’s one of the best golf courses in the world and that drove me to practice to try to play better.”
After Maya received her trophy, she spotted newly-crowned Augusta National Women’s Amateur champion Rose Zhang mingling with fans.
“Rose! I won my age division!”
“No way! You made it much further in Drive, Chip & Putt than I ever did.”
Defending Masters champ Scottie Scheffler made an appearance as well. Once the competitors came off the course, Scheffler congratulated them and took pictures with the wide-eyed kids. Outside the rope line, parents beamed with pride, snapping pictures on their digital cameras (no phones, remember?), saving the memories that will last a lifetime.
Drive, Chip & Putt might be new to the Masters Week traditions, but that doesn’t make it any less special. Days like these are a celebration. Not only of the hard work it took to get here, but also of the feat of having competed on the same grounds that Hogan and Player and Nicklaus and Woods did.
This won’t be the last time they get that opportunity, though. Next time they’re here, it could well be for the Masters or the ANWA. As long as this tradition keeps up, it will surely inspire them to return.