In the Drive, Chip and Putt Finals, big smiles and long drives

By Vartan Kupelian
Published on
In the Drive, Chip and Putt Finals, big smiles and long drives

Zachary Colön got a final bit of advice Sunday from his favorite player, two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson. Colön was standing in line getting ready to putt in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals when Watson approached, shook his hand, and said, “Go get ’em.”

Colön obliged. He holed the second putt of the competition, from 15 feet, on the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club to force a playoff in the Boys 13-14 division, then won the playoff against Clinton Daly to win the national championship.

Colön, from Bolton, Mass., scored 8 points across the board, finishing third in each category to post a total of 24 points. Daly amassed his 24 points by finishing second in both chipping and putting and fifth in driving.

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“I don’t know how to describe it,” Colön said of the experience. “Unbelievable. Even better than what I imagined.”

Colön’s objective going into the competition was to soak it all in.

“I tried to have as much fun as possible and remember that we’re all winners already,” he said.

On a perfect early spring day at Augusta National, the competition equaled the pristine backdrop. One after another, the 80 finalists took their turns at trying to earn a national title, displaying impressively athletic swings and smooth putting strokes. The performances were memorable.

There was Maye Huang of Katy, Texas, barely taller than her driver, which happens to be her favorite club, winning the Girls 7-9 division. Her brother, Treed, had also reached the finals again. Treed tied for fourth in the Boys 12-13 on Sunday.

Maye finished second in driving, with a distance of 166.5 yards, and also in chipping. Her second chip finished 14 inches from the hole, for a two-chip aggregate of 13 feet, 3 inches. She won the putting competition, her two putts, from 30 and 15 feet, finishing a total of 48 inches from the hole.

She said she spends between an hour and two almost every day practicing her golf. What she likes best about the game is making friends and having fun. Her first exposure to the Drive, Chip and Putt came three years ago when she watched her brother compete.

“I always try to beat him,” Maye said.

And does she?

“Sometimes in chipping contests,” she said.

Asked for some advice on putting, she offered this: “Focus on the putt you have now. Not the next putt.”

Mason Quagliata of Scottsdale, Ariz., had a pre-dawn wake-up call on Sunday. More than four hours later, when the first of the age group competitions was completed, he was still dreaming.

“Just being here in Augusta is a dream, for sure,” Quagliata said. “To play and actually putt and chip here . . . It’s really cool.”

Quagliata became a national champion by winning the playoff in the Boys 14-15 division over Andrew Scholz of Fairway, Kan.

Quagliata’s victory was based on consistency. He is 5-foot-3 but smashes a golf ball. He finished third in driving, hitting both his attempts in bounds – 270.2 and 268.5 yards – second in chipping and fifth in putting.

Quagliata has been playing golf for only four or five years, he said. An all-around athlete, he took up the game after suffering an injury playing lacrosse. “That’s when I got more serious about it,” he said.

Clay Merchent, who tied for fifth in the Boys 14-15 division, hit the longest drive of the competition – 304.7 yards – on the first of his two attempts.

Liam Hartling, Redlands, Calif., won the Boys 10-11 group, and the title in the 7-9 age group went to Carter Gaede of Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Three-time participant Alexa Pano of Lake Worth, Fla., posted her second victory in three years, this time in the Girls 12-13 division. Lucy Yuan of San Diego with 27 points, including first place in driving (215 yards) and putting, captured the Girls 10-11.
Savannah Grewal of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, won the Girls 14-15 by 1 point over Mimi Chen of Longwood, Fla. Grewal won the driving competition with a belt of 248.5 yards.