Eight-year-old Luke Parsons qualifies for Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals
Like countless other 8-year-olds, Luke Parsons has dreams of going to Augusta National Golf Club in April.
And, like plenty of kids his age who are lucky enough, that's exactly where he'll be when the Masters Tournament rolls around.
There's just one difference, however.
He won't be there as a spectator. Luke's going to Augusta to compete -- and he's going there to win.
In September, the two-time world champion junior golfer from Salley won his regional qualifier at Pinehurst to earn a spot in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, where he'll be one of 80 competitors the Sunday before the Masters.
"I feel great. I'm really excited to go to Augusta," said Luke, who enjoys watching the Masters on TV, but he'd always much rather play and compete than watch others. On April 1, others all over the world will be watching him -- the Drive, Chip and Putt is broadcast live on Golf Channel.
Receiving the invitation in the mail nearly brought a tear to his father Tim's eyes.
"It said 'We are honored to host you as a competitor.' Not a guest, not a spectator," Tim said. "It's like, there are a lot of PGA Tour players that never get to compete at Augusta."
In the Drive, Chip and Putt format, participants compete in each of those three skills and take three shots at each to accumulate a score. Golfers hit three tee shots to a 40-yard wide fairway, with points being awarded for distance in bounds. They then get three attempts at a 10-to-15-yard chip, earning points based on proximity to the hole within the scoring zone. The scoring is the same for putting, with players attempting three putts: a 6-footer, a 15-footer and a 30-footer.
Luke won the Boys' 7-9 age group at Pinehurst with a total score of 110 points, 13 ahead of his nearest competitor. He finished third in driving and second in both chipping and putting.
Luke and older brother Hunter hone those skills at Barnwell's Sweetwater Country Club, where they practice and have been welcomed warmly by the staff and members, with pro Rivers Johnson and buddies on the Barnwell High golf team.
The accuracy is there off the tee for Luke, and he's working on adding a little power to it. He hits his custom TaylorMade M1 driver -- the outlier in a set of custom Pings -- around 200 yards, and he hit one at Sweetwater 175 yards uphill to a damp fairway. Standing over his approach, he explained his pre-shot routine.
"It's really important, because that's what you do every time," he said. "So here, I have my club aiming right at the flag, and I'm drawing the shot. I'm thinking about what I'm gonna do."
He stepped back and took his practice swing exactly like his regular swing. He rehearses his pre-shot routine over and over, all the way down to which foot he steps with first toward the ball. That way, in competition, it's a reflex.
He then hit two fairway metals 162 yards, each drawing softly before landing. There was maybe a foot in between where the two shots ended up.
Luke's chipping is just as solid, as he has a deep and detailed understanding of how to use his wedges to hit every kind of shot. And he's a steady putter, staying composed and rock solid over the ball. That's something he admires about Kevin Kisner, and he'd like to putt with Kisner one day at Palmetto Golf Club.
"He's calm, he's relaxed," Luke said.
Luke displayed that by rolling in a 45-footer, a putt he backed off after a car went driving behind the green.
Luke is working with coach Tim Cooke at Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island to squeeze every bit of power out of the swing -- he likes that about PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas. That power comes in handy in Luke's junior events, as these aren't little pitch-and-putt tracks -- one of the par-4s they'll play at Pinehurst in next year's world championship measures 320 yards.
Luke added his second world championship in July, winning the IMG Academy Junior World Championships near San Diego in the 7-8 division. He was 13 under over 54 holes, beating China's Xi Huan Chang by a shot. His golf bag, nearly as large as he is, has been stitched to reflect his latest world title.
He recently won the Tommy Cuthbert All-Stars at the Seabrook Island Club by shooting 65, a tournament record according to Tim, for an 11-stroke victory.
Luke has more big-time events coming up in December and January before he heads to Augusta: the Doral Publix Junior Golf Championship at Trump National Doral Miami, an event he won by four shots last year with a 62; the U.S. Kids Golf Holiday Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach; and the IMG Junior Golf Tour's Junior Honda Classic, also played at PGA National.
Luke will almost certainly add another big championship before April, where he'll aim for his biggest yet. Tim describes Luke's style as humble but wanting to win. And in Augusta, that's what he's going there to do.
This article is written by Kyle Dawson from Aiken Standard, S.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.