Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Pros stoked to see kids on famous greens

First children's event a roaring success

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AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The biggest thrill of his life was making a 20-foot putt across the 18th green at Augusta National, and moments later he was wearing a green jacket.

It could have been a replay from last year at the Masters, except the big moment wasn't for Adam Scott.

On this Sunday, the endless smile belonged to 11-year-old Leo Cheng of Northridge, Calif. He was among eight winners from different age groups at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt contest.

"I just had a vision of Adam Scott making that putt," said Cheng, who won the boys' 10-11 division.

The final shot in the skills challenge was a putt from the same spot where Scott made birdie last year in the Masters, which he won in a playoff.

Cheng and other seven kids didn't win a green jacket. Cheng's parents bought him a dark green sports coat to wear, win or lose, for making it to the finals of the skills challenge sponsored by Augusta National, the USGA and the PGA of America.

To make Cheng's day even more memorable, Scott showed up at the trophy presentation wearing the real green jacket.

"It's amazing to see so many people out there and the kids having a fun time," Scott said.

This was a Sunday unlike any other at Augusta National.

Natalie Pietromonaco of Auburn, Calif., was on one side of the practice green standing over a putt as Fred Couples watched from the other side.

Sunday typically is quiet at the home of the Masters as players arrive to start preparing for the first major of the year. Most couldn't take their eyes off the group of 11 finalists, boys and girls, from each age division as they made their way from the practice range (driving and chipping) to the practice green, and then the final putt on the 18th hole.

"Can you imagine being 10 years old and to come here and putt on these greens?" Couples said. "For us as players, it's pretty neat to see them out here."

Golf Channel broadcast the event live. Parents watched nervously. The kids exchanged high-fives. The winners hoisted their trophies under the big oak tree by the clubhouse.

This is what Masters chairman Billy Payne had in mind when he announced the Drive, Chip and Putt contest a year ago to help stoke more interest among kids. Over 17,000 children signed up for qualifiers in 19 states and the District of Columbia, boys and girls from four age groups -- 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15.

Pietromonaco had to go to Oregon for her local qualifying, and then her father drove her 13 hours to Washington for the chance to win a trip to Augusta.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance," she said after winning the girls' 12-13 division.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2014 D4

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