Clutch putts, big drives highlight Drive, Chip and Putt Finals performances

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Clutch putts, big drives highlight Drive, Chip and Putt Finals performances

Renewing what has quickly become a Masters week highlight, 80 boys and girls, excited yet poised as they tested their skills on one of golf’s grandest stages, competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on Sunday.

The sixth-annual competition began in an early morning drizzle that gave way to a fair spring sky. As always, the contestants, ranging in age from 7 to 15, performed at Augusta National in front of both admiring patrons and encouraging past Masters champions. The Green Jacket winners on hand included Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Sergio Garcia, Nick Faldo, Mark O’Meara, Bernhard Langer, Mike Weir and defending champion Patrick Reed.

“Trying to get some tips,” said Watson, the two-time Masters champion, as he walked toward to the 18th green to watch the putting competition.

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Joining the awards ceremonies under the Big Oak Tree behind the Clubhouse was Jennifer Kupcho, who had made history herself by winning the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur the day before.

Angela Zhang, 9, of Bellevue, Wash., had the pleasure of meeting Kupcho after winning the Girls 7-9 division. Angela took first place in her division in driving and chipping and came in second in putting to earn a commanding overall victory. Standing 4-feet-10 and weighing 75 pounds, she belted a drive 189 yards through the damp air, 33 yards longer than her nearest competitor.

As television cameras closed in and camera shutters clicked, Angela kept her composure in what was her first appearance in the National Finals.

“I try to, like, focus on what I’m doing and pretend it’s just me,” Angela said.

Sunday’s other winners included Conner Ford (Mount Vernon, Ky.), Boys 7-9; Sahish Reddy (Atlanta), Boys 10-11; Sophia Li (New York, N.Y.), Girls 10-11; Matthew Vital (Bethlehem, Pa.), Boys 12-13; Yana Wilson (Henderson, Nev.), Girls 12-13; Treed Huang (Katy, Texas), Boys 14-15; Nicole Gal (Oakville, Ontario), Girls 14-15.

The participants came from 27 states and four Canadian provinces. There was also a player from France. The field included 15 returning competitors from previous National Finals, including a trio of four-time national finalists.

Treed’s win in the Boys 14-15 division was his second finals victory. Treed said his prior appearances in the event helped him prepare, especially in the putting competition, which featured two downhill putts, one from approximately 30 feet and the other half that length.

“I definitely learned from my first three experiences how the green rolled and everything, and I just knew I couldn’t get it past the hole,” said Treed, whose younger sister, Maye, also qualified for the National Finals this year, vying in the Girls 10-11 group.

Two participants aced both putts on Sunday: Sophia Li, who won the Girls 10-11 division; and Garret Ebbert of Lake Mary, Fla., the third-place finisher in the Boys 12-13 group.

Despite being a Drive, Chip and Putt veteran, Treed said he was no less thrilled to win than when he took the honors in the Boys 7-9 division in 2014, the first year the competition was held.

“It feels still pretty amazing,” Treed said. “Getting to win at Augusta National is unbelievable.”

Over the past five years, he said, based on the local, subregional and regional qualifying rounds in which he’s competed, the Drive, Chip and Putt has increased in popularity.

“So many more kids have joined since we first started,” Treed said, “and it’s just so cool watching it grow that fast.”