AUGUSTA, Ga. – Eighty junior golfers representing 30 U.S. states and one Canadian province have earned an invitation to Augusta National Golf Club to compete in the fourth annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, to be played on Sunday, April 2, 2017, prior to the start of the Masters Tournament.
A joint initiative by the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free, nationwide youth golf development initiative open to girls and boys ages 7-15 – competing in separate divisions in four age categories – focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf and tapping the creative and competitive spirit of young golfers.
Results of the 10 regional qualifiers – the third and final stage of qualifying conducted at many USGA and PGA championship sites throughout the country – yielded five returning competitors from previous National Finals:
Participated in the 2016 National Finals:
- Alexa Pano (2016 Girls 10-11 Champion), of Lake Worth, Fla., won the Girls 12-13 age group at The Country Club
- Malia Schroeder, of Arlington, Wash., won the Girls 12-13 age group at The Olympic Club
Participated in the 2015 National Finals:
- Megha Ganne, of Holmdel, N.J., won the Girls 12-13 age group at Baltusrol Golf Club
Participated in the 2014 National Finals:
- Treed Huang (2014 Boys 7-9 Champion), of Katy, Texas, won the Boys 12-13 age group at Southern Hills
- Samuel Kodak, of Naples, Fla., won the Boys 12-13 age group at TPC Sawgrass
- Alexa Pano
The road to Augusta began with local qualifying in May, June, and July, held at more than 250 sites throughout the United States. The top three scorers per venue, in each of the four age categories in separate boys and girls divisions, advanced to 50 subregional qualifiers in July and August. Two juniors in each age and gender division then competed at the regional level in September.
The top finisher from each regional site’s age/gender divisions – a total of 80 finalists – earned a place in the National Finals, which will be broadcast live on Golf Channel. All local, subregional and regional qualifiers were conducted by the 41 Sections of the PGA of America, with PGA Professionals providing support at each facility hosting a qualifier.
Notes from Regional Qualifying:
- Claire Bradford had already planned to attend the 2017 Masters with her father, Tom, and 7-year-old brother Collin before winning the Girls 7-9 division at Pinehurst. Bradford’s great grandfather, Ralph Herndon, helped operate the Masters scoreboard near the 15th green for a number of years. After finalist Karson Adkins’ sister Kameron, 10, had heart surgery in April, Adkins’ ability to play this summer was limited — and she says that did not bother her one bit. “I just kept practicing and I was able to grow closer to my sister. So it was a win-win.”
- Trips down Magnolia Lane are becoming old hat for Malia Schroeder, the winner of last year’s Girls 12-13 division title at The Olympic Club. Schroeder repeated the feat, earning her second consecutive trip to Augusta National, where she finished fifth in the National Finals in 2016. Australian-born finalist Marcus Page was born on Masters Sunday, 2004, the day Phil Mickelson won his first green jacket. Like Mickelson, Page plays left-handed. Also like Phil, he’ll be headed to Augusta, having captured the Boys 12-13 division title.
- Megha Ganne qualified along with her sister, Sirina (Girls 7-9 division), making them the only pair of siblings to make it from the Baltusrol Golf Club regional. This is also Megha’s second trip to the National Finals. Austin Liao missed qualifying for Augusta National last year by two points, which motivated him all year to win the Boys 12-13 division. “It means everything. Last year, being so close, to make it this year, it’s just so great. I worked really hard to do it.”
- Jack Johnson will make his first trip to Augusta National after winning the Boys 14-15 division at Hazeltine National Golf Club, where he just wrapped up his first season as a caddie. After being eliminated in a tie breaker at the regional qualifier last year, Isabella Mccauley won the Girls 12-13 division by four points. “Last year it was hard because I thought I won, but it made me want to practice harder. I practiced so much coming to this event and it paid off.”
- Momo Kikuchi won the Girls 14-15 division at Medinah Country Club with 129 points, the most of any female finalist. She earned 55 points on the putting portion alone. Andrew Scholz was the last player to tee off at the regional qualifier, and ended the day on a high note, holing two of his first three putts (from 6 and 15 feet) to earn his spot in the National Finals. Scholz, who is 15, plays golf cross-handed (left hand low) with every club in his bag.
- After seeing a few friends participate in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, Julia Rabadam wanted to join in the fun. After making it to the subregional round last year, this year Rabadam not only won the Girls 12-13 division at Oakmont Country Club, but also medaled in each event. Boys 14-15 finalist Clay Merchant has a very good mentor in the game of golf, who he credited with much of his success on the course Sunday. “My dad is a PGA pro and he’s really helped me,” the 15-year-old said. “He’s never pushed me, never even to go hit balls. He’s always left it up to me.”
- Maye Huang became half of a rare brother-sister duo to qualify in the same year by winning the Girls 7-9 division at Southern Hills Country Club. Her brother, Treed Huang, won the Boys 12-13 division and will be making his second trip to Augusta National. After winning the Boys 7-9 Division at the National Finals in 2014, Huang said he was eager to get back and try to win a second DCP championship at Augusta National. “Augusta was awesome,” he said. “The fairways were like mats and the greens didn’t have one single flaw. When my sister won, that definitely gave me extra motivation. If we’re going back, I wanted to be competing.”
- Kayla Bryant played in her local qualifier last year but did not advance, and used the lessons she learned to improve and win all three categories in the Girls 7-9 division at TPC Sawgrass. She will be joined at the National Finals by her neighbor and friend Chloe Kovelesky, winner of the Girls 10-11 division. Samuel Kodak earned his second trip to Augusta National with his Boys 12-13 division win. He also advanced to the National Finals in 2014, the first year of the competition.
- Kristina Xu has competed in Drive, Chip and Putt since 2014, but never advanced past regional qualifying. That all changed this year at Riviera Country Club, when she won all three disciplines in the Girls 7-9 division and beat her closest competitor by 47 points. Her older sister, Kelly, was the first female champion crowned at the National Finals in 2014. Two other siblings of former National Finalists also advanced at Riviera, including Nalani Sam (Girls 12-13), sister of 2016 Girls 12-13 Champion Kayla Sam, and Evan Chien (Boys 12-13), whose sister Leigh Chien competed in the 2016 National Finals. Mason Quagliata won the Boys 14-15 division with a total of 143 points, four points ahead of the closest competitor. “I went last year [to Augusta] for a practice round. It’s going to be a lot cooler standing on the first tee and putting on the 18th green.”
- Alexa Pano will compete at Augusta National for the third time this year, which puts her at more trips than any other finalist. “In the first year, there were only two stages,” said Pano, who won the Girls 12-13 division at The Country Club. “Now there are three stages and a lot more players all over the country, so to make it back is just incredible.” Illness kept Brian Glennon from competing in last year’s subregional round, and he made up for it this year with a Boys 14-15 division victory. “I never thought I could make it this far, but I guess I’m here and I won.”
All championship scoring at the local, subregional and regional qualifiers is based on a 25-point-per-shot basis, with each participant taking three shots per skill. Each participant accumulated points per shot in all three skills (maximum of 75 points per skill = 25 points per shot x 3). The overall champion in each age category was determined by the participant with the most points accumulated between all three skills (maximum of 225 points = 75 points per skill x 3).
For each skill, the point system is based in incremental distance measurements, rewarding accuracy and distance in the drive skill, and proximity for chipping and putting skills. Difficulty increases with age.
At the National Finals, one champion will be named from each age/gender division. Each finalist will be scored based on a 30-point system, offering the player with the longest drive 10 points, the player with the closest cumulative chips 10 points and the player with the nearest cumulative putts 10 points, in each separate skill. The highest total composite score will determine the winner.