Nine shots toward Augusta
While parents beamed proudly nearby, many inquiries of “How’d you do?” between youngsters competing with and also cheering each other on filled the morning air.
Such was the fun and memorable atmosphere at the annual Drive, Chip & Putt Championships local qualifying held for the third time at the Stoneybrook Golf Club in Estero on June 30.
Co-run by the Masters Tournament, the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America, 45 boys and 29 girls, ages 7 to 15, did their best in the sport’s three fundamental shots vying for trips to what many regard is the granddaddy of the major pro events.
First, each participant hit three putts — from six, 15 and 30 feet — from the pin on Stoneybrook’s practice green. They then took turns chipping three times from a spot just off the 18th green. Lastly, a special tee area was set up on the fairway nearby heading toward the 18th tee to grade on both accuracy and distance for three drives. Cones and yard markers were deployed on both sides of the fairway.
Along with helping participants mark their scorecards at each of the three competitive areas, adult volunteers manned the 18th fairway to tally drive yardage using GPS equipment.
Other Stoneybrook golfers during the event were advised to play two balls on the first hole to complete their rounds.
The boys’ 7-9-year-old division included brothers Griffin and Jack Henry. “Golf is big in our family,” said mom Megan Henry, members of Wildcat Run Golf and Country Club, also in Estero, and whose Uncle J.J. Henry is on the PGA Tour.
“This is Jack’s first time in this event. He’s so excited,” said Megan, adding that Griffin also participates in Stoneybrook’s junior golf program.
Twenty-four youngsters — the top three finishers in each of eight divisions — advanced to the program’s sub-regional competition at the PGA Center for Learning & Performance in Port St. Lucie on August 13.
The national finals will be held at the Augusta National Golf Club on the Sunday prior to the next Masters Tournament and will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel.
Qualifiying boys were Griffin Henry, Jackson Mills and Finn Foster (7-9); Carson Baez, Gavin Lind and Sam Davey, (10-11); Noah Kent, Samuel Kodak and Logan Eakins (12-13); and Reece Kyle, Alec Laios and Gregory Moore (14-15). The girls that qualified were Sophia Coronel, Chloe Kozlowsky and Sadie Johnson (7-9); Sara Davey, Jamie Lowry and Maggie Paolino (10-11); Talia Rodino, Eliza Kodak and Megan Ariza (12-13); and Sarah Matkowski, Claire Sattler and Megan Brooks (14-15).
Another area qualifying event will be held at the Vineyards Country Club in Naples on July 16, one of seven in Florida plus one sub-qualifier, among 256 events being held nationwide.
More than 800 players signed up in the state, about 100 more than last year, according to Tori Stock, communications and special events manager of PGA South Florida.
“Two South Florida kids were at Augusta the last two years,” said Stock. “Kids around here saw them on TV or on social media. It helped get more youngsters to want to take part.”
Stoneybrook’s head pro Jeff Nixon, assistant pros Jordan Ball and Joshua Ross, plus club board members and volunteers including Don Masters, Ron Ritschel, John Blakely, Joe Gero, Stan Gula and George Fekete joined Stock and several other South Florida PGA staffers in administering the event.
Beyond the gates
The recent Rotary Club of Fort Myers – Sunrise Pro-Am Golf Classic at The Forest Country Club in south Fort Myers raised $27,000 for the Foundation for Lee County Public Schools ... The Spanish Wells Golf and Country Club, in Bonita Springs, held a special dinner and dance on June 25 for about 250 current and former members plus residents that included Advance Golf Partners informing attendees on upgrades and other maintenance of its courses ... Upcoming LPGA Girls Golf summer program nine-hole events for high school and middle school girls will be at Quail Creek Country Club, July 16; the Club at the Strand, July 23; Vasari Golf Club, July 30; Esplanade Golf & Country Club, Aug. 6, West Bay Beach & Golf Club, Aug. 13; and Wildcat Run Golf & Country Club, Aug. 20. Wildcat Run will also host the 18-hole finals on Aug. 27.