When Michael Bruce was 3 years old, his grandfather bought him a set of plastic golf clubs.
The gift did not become just another discarded toy. It was the first step to a passion for the boy from Fort Fairfield.
Bruce, now 9, has become quite good at the game during the last six years. On Sunday, he'll be representing Maine in the national Drive, Chip and Putt championships at Augusta National Golf Club.
Bruce will have the chance to compete at the same Augusta National where the world-renowned Masters Tournament will be played April 6-9.
"It's about as big a thrill as you can imagine," Michael's father, James, said. "He watched [the Masters] on TV a couple years ago and said, 'I want to go to the Masters'."
Bruce is among 80 players in a variety of age groups who will be competing at Augusta. He's one of eight players who will vie for a title in the 7-9 age group.
To reach Augusta, Bruce had to go through multiple qualifying stages last year. Those included a state competition at Cumberland's Val Halla Golf Club, sub-regional qualifying in Framingham, Massachusetts and the Northeast Regional at Brookline Country Club in Massachusetts, site of the 1999 Ryder Cup.
Players are given three drives, measured in distance and accuracy, three chips and three putts of varying length. The Northeast region consists of New England, New York and Pennsylvania.
James Bruce said the family was given tickets to a Masters practice round, and they are set to head to Georgia on Thursday morning.
Their home course is Aroostook Valley Country Club in Fort Fairfield.
Michael Bruce, who is in fourth grade, will get to see his favorite players up close and personal at the April 3 practice round following Sunday's competition.
"I'm excited because I get to see all the players," he said. "It's just exciting being there."
Bruce's favorite player is Dustin Johnson, who won his first major at last summer's U.S. Open.
"I like to see him play because he's been really clutch so far, and he's been doing really, really well," Bruce said.
Athletics run deep in Bruce's family. His older brother, Carter, is on the varsity basketball team at Fort Fairfield and helped lead the Tigers into the Class C North regional finals this season.
James Bruce, his brothers and their father have always had a passion for golf. Now, Michael is joining in the family tradition.
"It's fun [but] it's aggravating sometimes," Michael admitted, "because you can hit a good shot, and you can hit a bad one but then you can have a birdie. It's really fun."
James Bruce said chipping is the strongest part of Michael's game but Michael, like his favorite player, seems to enjoy hitting bombs with his driver.
"It makes the ball go furthest [and] I just seem to be pretty good at it," Michael said.
And getting a chance to play on arguably the country's most famous golf course?
"It's going to be really exciting because it's one of the most famous courses in the world and I'm going to get to putt on it," Michael said.
This article is written by Ryan McLaughlin from Bangor Daily News, Maine and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.
Experts on the business and game of golf. The best coaching tips and latest golf news delivered straight to you. Sign Up to get the latest.