HARTLAND, Wisconsin – Emily Lauterbach admits she will be a bit nervous when she competes in the finals of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship.
Who wouldn't be nervous competing on the driving range and on the 18th green at the Augusta National Golf Club, the day before official practice rounds begin for the Masters Tournament?
Who wouldn't be nervous hitting shots before packed grandstands, live on the Golf Channel (8:00 a.m. Sunday)?
Then again, Lauterbach, an eighth-grader at Swallow Elementary School, is taking a pragmatic approach to the competition.
"I know I'll be in the top 10," she said.
No doubt about it. Lauterbach, 14, is one of 10 finalists in her age group (girls 14-15). A total of 80 juniors – 40 girls and 40 boys – advanced through local, subregional and regional competition last year to make it to Augusta National.
And Lauterbach is not the only finalist from Hartland.
Jessica Guiser, 9, qualified in the girls 7-9 age group.
"I'm really excited," Guiser said. "I think I'll do good."
If the girls are excited about a trip to Augusta, their fathers are absolutely giddy.
Dan Guiser and Heath Lauterbach are avid golfers who have attended numerous major championships. Lauterbach was in the gallery at the Old Course in St. Andrews when Tiger Woods won his first British Open title in 2000.
Neither, however, has ever been to the Masters, one of the toughest tickets in sports.
"It's hard to put into words," said Guiser, a patent attorney for GE Healthcare and a member at Chenequa Country Club. "I've always wanted to go to the Masters. I've been to the U.S. Open a few times. I've been to Ryder Cups. But the Masters has been kind of the pinnacle, the event that I most wanted to see.
"It would have been an amazing experience if I'd just been able to go myself and see it. But to be going with my daughter, to see her compete, to get access to the event, is much more exciting. It's hard for me to get my head around.
"I'm sure I'll look back on this as being one of the coolest experiences ever."
The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, a free nationwide junior competition in its second year, is a joint initiative of the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America.
The competition is scored on a points system based on incremental distance measurements. For instance, the contestant with the longest drive finishing within a 40-yard-wide grid is awarded 10 points, the contestant with the second-longest drive is awarded 9 points, and so on.
The finalists and their families are housed for three nights, fed and provided with tickets to Masters practice rounds Monday.
"Last year we saw the Drive, Chip and Putt contest on TV and I said, 'Why not?'" said Heath Lauterbach, whose older daughter, Claire, is a member of the Arrowhead High School girls golf team. "We just said, 'We'll give it a try.'"
Before Emily hit her final drive in the regional at TPC Twin Cities in Blaine, Minn., Lauterbach texted his wife, Karen.
"I said, 'If she hits this in (the grid), we're going,'" Lauterbach said. "She crushed it right down the middle. I was smiling pretty hard."
Jessica Guiser, who attends North Lake Elementary School, also qualified at TPC Twin Cities. She already hits her driver 170 yards.
"My husband is really a huge golf fan so he's the one who started the entire family," said Guiser's mother, Sheway Chen. "He started Jessica when she was 5. Jessica started picking up golf and started getting really good."
Emily Lauterbach is athletic – she also ski races and plays softball – and has a natural talent for golf. She can hit her driver 260 yards and has made rapid improvement since she started taking lessons from PGA Professional Larry Tiziani in Madison.
"We just had her fitted for a new driver and they almost put her in a stiff shaft," Heath Lauterbach said. "She's very strong. She's outdriving dad."
The object in the finals, for both girls, is to have fun.
"That's all that matters," Heath Lauterbach said. "That's what I push on the kids. My older daughter is Type A but with this one (Emily) it's all about fun. I want to make sure she stays that way."
This article was written by Gary D'Amato from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.