Clutch putts, cool nerves seal victories in Drive, Chip and Putt

By By Vartan Kupelian
Published on
Clutch putts, cool nerves seal victories in Drive, Chip and Putt

Click here for full coverage of the 2016 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- A predawn wakeup call didn't deter Alyssa Montgomery Sunday in the 2016 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club.

"I slept very well," said Montgomery, who made a clutch 30-foot putt to clinch the Girls 14-15 division, the first of eight groups to tee off.

"I was not trying to make any of my putts because I knew if I tried to make them I would probably kill them way by. I was just trying to cradle them up there nice and close. I thought it was going to stop just short … and the first one just happened to go in. When it went in it was awesome. Then the second one got close enough for the win."

Montgomery scored a total of 26.5 points, 3.5 points more than Skylar Thompson of Buford, Ga. Montgomery's second putt finished 3 feet, 3 inches from the cup on the hallowed 18th green. Montgomery's total included nine points for her runner-up finish in driving and 7.5 points in chipping (a tie for third).

Montgomery, 15, whose home course is Holston Hills in Knoxville, Tenn., was the first of eight National Champions crowned at Augusta National, and her solid performances paved the way for outstanding showings across the board.

The age-group winners among the boys were: Stephen Robert Hernandez, Houston, 7-9; Christian Kim, Vernon Hills, Ill., 10-11; Ty Griggs, Manteca, Calif., 12-13; and Michael Thorbjornsen of Wellesley, Mass., 14-15.

Others winners among the girls included Emerson Blair of West Point, Miss., 7-9; Alexa Pano, Lake Worth, Fla., 10-11; and Kayla Sam, Anaheim Hills, Calif., 12-13.

The longest drive of the competition came from 15-year-old Marco Punzo of Chicago, who struck the ball 264 yards up the fairway of the Tournament Practice Facility, the same practice range used by Masters competitors. Julia Gregg of Dallas topped the girls with a 215-yard drive in the Girls 14-15 division. Montgomery finished second with 213.5 yards to collect nine driving points.

For all of the 80 participants in the National Finals, Sunday's competition — on one of golf's grandest stages — made for indelible memories.

"It was dark when we got to the club and we couldn't see much on the drive down Magnolia Lane, but it was still awesome," Montgomery said.

Montgomery had worked on her putting with her father, Kenny, while in Augusta leading up to the competition. "We watched film from last year's competition to see what the putts were like," she said. Speaking of her winning 30-footer, she said, "It wasn't the longest putt I've made."

But it certainly was the biggest, televised by Golf Channel to a national audience and earning her the DCP national title.

"It was dark when we got to the club and we couldn't see much on the drive down Magnolia Lane, but it was still awesome." - Alyssa Montgomery

Montgomery began playing when she was seven years old by watching her father hit balls in the backyard.

"I would steal his clubs and start hitting when he wasn't watching," said Montgomery, who won her regional stage at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., a major championship venue.

It was the first time Montgomery has competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. Conflicts with other tournaments she was scheduled to play in prevented her from trying to qualify the past two years. After watching the first two DCP National Finals on television, she vowed to attempt this year and it paid off big-time.

The closest finish of the day took place in the Boys 14-15 division, the final competition of the day. Thorbjornsen's 23-point total (out of a possible 30 points) placed him one better than three other players, Marco Punzo of Prosper, Texas; Chase Venn of Columbia, Mo., and Daniel Uranga of Wilder, Idaho.

Thorbjornsen and Punzo stood tied at 19 points after the driving and chipping rounds. The title came down to putting, in which Thorbjornsen held on to score 4 points. Uranga won the putting competition to join Venn and Punzo as runners-up.

"I knew I was tied for the lead and I needed to put a pretty good number on," Thorbjornsen said. "I putted ninth out of tenth. My first putt (4 feet, 11 inches) didn't go too well, and then my second putt (19 inches) did. My opponent (Punzo) needed a decent number to beat mine. His first putt went really well. Then his second putt, it was kind of close and it was pretty unsure whether I was going to win or not."