Golf

Agostini: Drive, Chip and Putt Championships shine in debut at Augusta National

ragostini@modbee.comApril 15, 2014 

Bubba Watson’s victory, for all its popularity, wasn’t the only feel-good story last week at the Masters.

The other event that drew all smiles at Augusta National was the finals of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championships. More than 17,000 registered across the country and 88 qualified for the coveted trip to the finals, conducted on the Sunday before Watson holed his final putt.

When it was over, eight children – four boys and four girls spanning age groups 7 to 15 – were crowned champions. The format was similar to football’s Punt, Pass and Kick. True to its title, it tested the kids in chipping, driving and putting.

From all accounts, the Drive, Chip and Putt was a resounding success. It even had a local connection.

Modesto’s Adam Williams entered in the 10-11 division and advanced through the Local round and into the Regionals at Morongo Golf Course in Belmont. There, he lost to Northridge’s Leo Cheng, the eventual age-group champion. Also taking part at the Local level was Manteca 7-year-old Jaylen Ralls.

Both are members of the Modesto-based First Tee of Central Valley, which supported the Drive, Chip and Putt. That comes as no surprise.

The contest, a joint initiative of the Masters, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America, was envisioned as a major outreach for junior golf. What pushed it over the top was Masters Chairman Billy Payne and Augusta National. The Masters was one of the founding partners of The First Tee.

“We just encouraged the kids to sign up last year. Now everyone saw the Web site on TV during the tournament,” said John Griston, the local chapter’s director of programs and operations. “Kids are coming up to us now after last weekend. There is a lot more interest.”

The spark no doubt was lit after the finals were telecast on Golf Channel. The closing putts were struck on Augusta’s famed 18th green. Accordingly, plans are made for a major expansion.

The inaugural contest was broken down to competition at 110 Local sites, which funneled down to the Regionals. The second year calls for Local contests at 256 sites, leading to 50 Sub-Regionals and a Regional. The goal is to increase entries to 50,000.

This year’s venues close to home include Riverside in Fresno, Poppy Ridge in Livermore, Coyote Creek in San Jose, Emerald Lakes in Elk Grove, Teal Bend in Sacramento, Poplar Creek in San Mateo, Empire Ranch in Folsom and the Chuck Corica Golf Complex in Alameda. The Local competitions will be held in June and July.

Register at www.drivechipandputt.com, which carries all the times and dates.

The shag bag – Coming up: The 25th Children’s Crisis Center Tournament, to be held Monday, April 28, at Del Rio CC. Nearly $100,000 is raised annually for local families to help abused, neglected and at-risk children. Call Shari Arakelian, 613-3050.

Hole-in-one – Ken Taylor, Ripon, 163-yard 12th at Spring Creek CC, Ripon, 6-iron.

Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or (209) 578-2302. Follow him on Twitter @ModBeeSports.

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