By Ann Liguori
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What a wonderful day of golf!

For years now, various golf organizations have been putting their heads together to come up with ways to grow the game; ways to get more young people interested in golf.

This year, the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and The PGA of America took a giant step toward that much-needed initiative.

The finals of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship were held at Augusta National on Sunday and televised on The Golf Channel. And it was a huge success. How that translates into stirring up more interest in the game among youngsters can’t be measured immediately but certainly with the national media giving the competition a fair share of attention, the competition should inspire and encourage more kids to take up the game and practice, practice, practice.

It was quite fascinating watching the variety of skill sets from the talented junior golfers and quite impressive seeing how composed the kids were, on and off the course. And it was quite historic as well, as it was the first time ever that a competition involving non-members, other than the Masters, was held on the grounds. And it was the first-ever ticketed event outside of the Masters.

More than 50,000 junior golfers participated at 256 host sites throughout the country in ‘qualifiers’ that started last May. Eventually, eighty junior players, ages 7-15, advanced to Sunday’s final, showing off their skills on the course where the 2014 Masters champ will emerge next Sunday.

Throughout the day, the young guns were rubbing elbows with many former Masters champions, including defending champ Adam Scott, 2012 champ Bubba Watson, 2000 Masters champ Vijay Singh, 1992 Masters champion Freddie Couples and 1987 winner Larry Mize, who were getting in early practice rounds.

There were four age categories in the competition: 7-9 years old; 10-11 years old; 12-13 years old; and 14-15 years old.

In the driving competition, the junior golfers drove to a 40-yard wide fairway. With the chipping competition, each participant chipped three, 10-15 yard shots. And on the 18th green, each participant attempted one putt from three different distances (6 feet, 15 feet and 30 feet). A point system determined the winners.

What most impressed me, aside from the 235 plus drives from several of the girls, was how composed and polite these young golfers were.

Nine-year-old Kelly Xu of Santa Monica, California, was the first of eight players to win.

When asked how it felt being the first female champion at Augusta National, Xu replied, “It felt, like, really exciting that all of my hard work, this is Augusta National, and to me, it’s the most special course in the world. And I feel like it’s all of my hard work has really paid off and it feels really good.” She said “this is the once-in-a-lifetime and I shouldn’t miss treat this chance. It’s really a huge privilege to come here.”

Patrick Welch of Providence, Rhode Island, drained a 20-foot putt on 18 to win the 14-15 boys age group. Leo Cheng of Northridge, California, the winner in the boy’s 10-11 category, said he had “a vision of Adam Scott making that (same) putt,” which Scott did last year, before winning in a playoff.

Congrats to the following juniors from the NY Metropolitan area who competed in the finals:

Megan Lane, Wilton, Ct, third in girls 10-11.

Sean Haselton, Sayville, N.Y., seventh in boys 12-13.

Andrew Reyes, Mickleton, NJ, 11th in boys 7-9.

Serena Chen, West Windsor, NJ, 11th girls 12-13.

Registration is now open for next year’s competition.

Sign up now! You too may have a chance to show off your skills in front of a national audience at America’s golf mecca, Augusta National.

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