Eight Champions Crowned at 2023 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club
(Chris Trotman/Augusta National Golf Club)
Eight junior golfers – four boys and four girls – were crowned champions at the ninth Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals held today, Sunday, April 2, at Augusta National Golf Club and broadcast live on Golf Channel across North and South America.
Conducted in partnership with the Masters Tournament, USGA and the PGA of America, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free youth golf development initiative for junior golfers of all skill and ability levels, aimed at sparking a lifelong interest in the game. The three-pronged competition welcomes boys and girls, ages 7-15, in four age categories, and tests the skills essential to golf: accuracy in driving, chipping and putting.
Tens of thousands of participants seized the opportunity to qualify for the event, which began with 342 local qualifiers at courses across the country in the summer of 2022. From there, the top finishers advanced through 60 subregionals to one of 10 regional qualifiers at some of the nation’s most acclaimed venues and championship sites.
Finally, the 80 regional winners across the four age divisions (40 boys and 40 girls) earned a trip to Augusta National Golf Club to participate in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
The four girl champions were:
- Ashley Kim of Cerritos, Calif. (ages 7-9)
- Alexandra Phung of Forest Hills, N.Y. (ages 10-11)
- Maya Palanza Gaudin of East Falmouth, Mass. (ages 12-13)
- Martha Kuwahara of Northbrook, Ill. (ages 14-15)
The four boy champions were:
- Knox Mason of Portland, Tenn. (ages 7-9)
- Neal Manutai of Laie, Hawaii (ages 10-11)
- Leo Saito of Hilo, Hawaii (ages 12-13)
- Jake Sheffield of Knoxville, Tenn. (ages 14-15)
“Drive, Chip and Putt is an annual showcase of the next generation for the game of golf,” said PGA of America President John Lindert, the Director of Golf at the Country Club of Lansing in Lansing, Michigan. “We are proud that PGA Professionals nationwide support Drive, Chip and Putt on the grassroots level in hosting local, subregional and regional qualifiers. Congratulations to the girls and boys champions and all the competitors for their performance in this year’s National Finals. We’re proud to work alongside the Masters Tournament and the USGA to bring about this amazing event and present the future of golf every year. I have had the pleasure to attend the Finals on several occasions and the future of the game is bright.”
“We are extremely proud of these 80 boys and girls who have gone through three stages of qualifying to get here. To watch them here with their parents and grandparents, with the smiles on their faces, is really gratifying,” said Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament. “We could not do this without our partnership with the USGA and PGA of America. The 10th anniversary of Drive, Chip and Putt is next year. We hope this is an inspiration for all these young boys and girls and that more of them than ever will try to qualify next year, which starts in a few short days.”
“It’s days like today that make me proud to be a part of this great game, watching young people from around the world come together to showcase their skills and passion,” said USGA CEO Mike Whan. “From investing in local and national junior programs with industry partners to launching the U.S. National Development Program to grow the pipeline of emerging talent, the USGA is excited to prioritize initiatives that are helping to break down barriers of entry into the game and foster the next generation of golfers.”
Click here for all final results.
Points were awarded in three individual skill categories (driving, chipping and putting), with the winner in each skill receiving 10 points, second place receiving 9 points, and so on, all the way down to 1 point. The player with the most points following all three competitions was declared the overall winner of the age group.
For the drive portion, the better of two distances was used for the score. Each golfer then took two chips; the closest cumulative distance to the hole determined the winner. Players then moved to Augusta National’s 18th green where they attempted two putts – from 15 and 30 feet – and used the cumulative distance from the hole to determine the score.
Inside the champion performances
In her first Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals appearance, Ashley Kim of Cerritos, Calif., started the day with a 171-yard drive that put her in first place. She kept the momentum, placing third in the chipping discipline. Out on the famed 18th green at Augusta National, her 15-foot putt attempt rolled within three feet of the hole, securing her overall win.
Alexandra Phung of Forest Hills, N.Y., is no stranger to Drive, Chip and Putt. This year marked her third appearance at the National Finals, and she said having past experience at Augusta National made her feel “a lot calmer” this time. Following her third-place finish in the driving discipline, a first-place chipping performance gave her a three-point lead. In the end, she scored 22 total points to take first place among Girls 10-11.
After placing third in driving and second in chipping, Maya Palanza Gaudin of East Falmouth, Mass., stayed consistent on the 18th green to climb to the top of the leader board. Her 30-foot putt attempt stopped just over one foot away from the hole, capturing second place in putting and first in her age group. “Just coming here was surreal,” Gaudin said. “Winning is on a whole other level.”
Martha Kuwahara of Northbrook, Ill. – in her second Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals appearance – won by a one-point total margin. A 241-yard drive kicked off her winning day, which was bookended by her putting performance: she hit her second putt just two inches away from the hole for a total score of 24 points and first place overall.
It was a fight to the finish for Knox Mason of Portland, Tenn. He took first in driving and then ninth in chipping. After the putting discipline, Mason and Jacob Eagan of Castle Rock, Colo., were tied for the overall lead - but Mason pulled ahead and sunk his 15-foot putt in a playoff for the win.
Nealson Manutai of Laie, Hawaii, drove his ball 237 yards, more than 40 yards farther than the second-place competitor. He kept the momentum with a second-place finish in the chipping discipline, and his consistent performance across the board led him to claim first place overall. He said the best part of the experience was “coming over here to Augusta National and winning this for Hawaii my first time here.”
After finishing third at the 2022 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, Leo Saito of Hilo, Hawaii, was ready to compete again. Hitting one putt within two feet of the hole and sinking the other, his strong skills on the green put him in a tie for first overall with Aarav Lavu of Wellesley, Mass. He then drained a 15-foot putt in the playoff to claim victory in his age group.
Jake Sheffield of Knoxville, Tenn., began his day with a 259-yard drive to earn second place in the discipline. He then placed fourth in chipping and secured his place atop the leader board with a 30-foot putt attempt that stopped within two feet of the hole. Reflecting on the day, he said, “I’ve been trying to calm my nerves. It is such a big stage. It’s the biggest stage in junior golf.”
The 2023-24 Drive, Chip and Putt qualifying season, with 345 free local qualifiers in all 50 states for boys and girls ages 7-15, is also now open for registration at drivechipandputt.com.
For more information on Drive, Chip and Putt, please visit drivechipandputt.com, follow @DriveChipPutt on Twitter and @DriveChipAndPutt on Facebook and Instagram.