Emree Cameron wanted redemption.
After missing the cut last year, Cameron was determined to hit the national spotlight in 2017.
And did she ever.
Cameron, a 9-year old from Nevada, Missouri, earned a third-place trophy in the 7-9 age division of the Drive, Chip and Putt championships on April 2, at Augusta National Golf Club.
"No, we didn't know that it would happen, that I would be going to Augusta," she said. "I just do drive, chip and putt for fun, just to play with other kids and go to other places. But we didn't expect I'd get to go to Augusta."
Cameron's referencing of 'we' includes her father Eric, who has assisted in getting her to this point and served as a chaperone at the historic golf course.
"It exceeded any goal that we set earlier in the year," he said.
Each age division -- four for girls, four for boys -- consisted of 10 players who advanced through earlier competitions involving an estimated 80,000 golfers to earn their spot at Augusta. The longest of two drives, plus the combined distance from the hole on two chip shots and two putts were used to figure scores.
May Huang of Katy, Texas, won the 7-9 girls division with 26 points, 10 of them for winning the putting competition. Kristina Xu of Arcadia, California, who won the chipping, and Claire Bradford of Watkinsville, Georgia, tied for second with 22 points, one more than Cameron.
Cameron won the drive competition, knocking her first ball 190 yards and drawing a loud cheer from fans in the grandstand. Her second drive went out of bounds.
"I didn't know I'd get first place with my drive because all of the girls at the driving range were hitting it really good, too," Emree said. "I was happy, and on my second one I was nervous because I hit my first drive really good. So I was like, 'OK, that's fine because I got the highest drive.' ''
"We knew that she had to hit it 166 yards, and we just didn't know," Eric Cameron said. "She's hit it that far, but her average is around 165. But she gets called up there and she tees that ball up and hits it. And it just goes, and we're yelling 'roll, roll, roll.' It rolls over the hill and we're waiting."
The moment it was announced that his daughter's drive was the new leader, Eric Cameron admitted tears began to flow.
"And then they put up 190.3 up on that scoreboard; there was a little hesitation, and then the crowd just roared," Eric said. "Oh my gosh, it was an unbelievable feeling. I started crying."
Even World Golf Hall of Famers Annika Sorenstam and Nancy Lopez took notice of Cameron's drive, which was 23 yards ahead of second place.
"They stopped and talked to Emree for three minutes about it," Eric said. "It was amazing to think Annika, arguably one of the best golfers to play, standing there having a conversation about this drive this little girl hit. That was a pretty amazing moment right there."
Emree placed fifth in the chipping contest and sixth in putting.
The experience, Eric said, was unlike any other, as the Camerons were first-timers at Augusta.
"When we were driving down Magnolia Lane and they dropped us off, that's when it really sinks in," he said. "When you step out of the (shuttle) van and onto the grounds of Augusta, now you're like OK."
Emree made a conscious decision while watching the 2016 competition on the GOLF Channel that she wanted to qualify the following year. Her father's advice was simple -- work hard.
"We put the pedal to the metal and trained hard," Eric said. "We went to Hazeltine (Golf Course in Chaska, Minnesota), she won the drive portion and was steady on the putt and the chip, and that's where she punched her ticket to Augusta."
Emree won competitions at Twin Oaks Golf Course in Springfield and a course in Lincoln, Nebraska, to advance to Hazeltine, the site of the Ryder Cup last fall.
The Camerons were pleased to represent Nevada, even though the town's name was once announced with the state's pronouncing. Eric put an end to that by asking an event official to correct the error.
But not much seemed to faze Emree.
"I was really happy and excited to get there," she said. "No one really in Nevada has been here before (to compete). ... We got to see a lot of players who played on the PGA Tour. And it was a really nice course; the greens were really fast and they had a lot of flowers and there were names for every hole."
Eric hopes his daughter's performance can inspire others locally.
"To represent a small community in a part of the country that's not golf-driven means a lot," he said. "Because it shows other kids out there that if you set goals high, you can attain them. Anything's possible if you put your mind to it and you're willing to work hard enough. It doesn't matter where you live."
Playing for a cause
Emree Cameron's success in the Drive, Chip and Putt Finals also benefited a greater cause.
She raised $6,000 for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital and the Sadie Keller Foundation, which delivers gifts to needy children who are hospitalized over the Christmas holiday.
Her goal entering the event was to raise $2,000.
This article is written by Adam Burns from The Joplin Globe, Mo. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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