JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Atlanta Athletic Club and Augusta National Golf Club have always shared a close connection.
On Sunday, the two iconic golf courses became even closer when Atlanta Athletic Club, the home club of Bobby Jones, hosted a Drive, Chip and Putt regional. On this warm, sunny Sunday, four boys and four girls qualified for the seventh-annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National, the course Jones co-founded and made world-famous.
It was the second time Atlanta Athletic Club – the site of three PGA Championships, a U.S. Open, a U.S. Women’s Open and a U.S. Amateur – has hosted regional qualifying. The club was well-represented by volunteers and staff members who made the event special. Participants were even invited to visit the club’s Bobby Jones Room, which houses many trophies and prizes that chronicle his career.
The regional produced eight first-time winners who advance to the 2020 National Finals at Augusta National on April 5, 2020.
Saia Rampersaud of Durham, N.C., was quite composed while waiting to hit her first drive in the Girls 12-13 division. Meanwhile, her father, a cancer surgeon, was a ball of nerves.
“I don’t usually come to this. I would normally send her mother,” Edward Rampersaud said. “She handles it better. I’m a nervous wreck.”
His heart rate eventually leveled out when his daughter placed first with 146 points and earned a spot in the National Finals. She credited an improved putting stroke for making the difference after finishing second in the regional a year ago.
“My putting was really bad. It was not good,” she said. “This year I’ve worked a lot on putting, and it’s gotten a lot better.”
John John Santospago of Charlotte, N.C., used an aggressive approach and won the Boys 10-11 division in his third trip to regional qualifying. His father, John, tried to talk his son into using a 3-wood in the drive skill competition to encourage accuracy. John John refused and smoked his first drive.
“I didn’t come here to lay up,” said the younger Santospago, a fifth grader who carries a 1 handicap. He had the best drive skill score in his age group (48 points) and finished with 148 points total.
The third time was the charm for Brandt Prinsloo of Alpharetta, Ga., as he won the Boys 7-9 title. He thought his dreams were over in the subregional when all three of his drives went out of bounds. Fortunately, the last drive hit a tree and bounced back into play, giving him enough points to reach the regional. He avoided the trees on Sunday, finished second in the drive competition and scored 130 points total.
“I’m so happy. It’s going to be the best day ever,” Prinsloo said. “I’ve been dreaming about how awesome it would be to go to Augusta.”
Persistence also paid off for Macy Pate of Boone, N.C., in the Girls 14-15 division. She had reached regionals the past three years but had finished second each time. Once, she lost a tiebreaker in the putting skill competition – “We found out later that she lost by one revolution of the ball,” her father Chris Pate said – and that point kept her from advancing to the National Finals. On Sunday, she scored 70 points to win the putting skill competition and totaled 149 points to win her division.
“I didn’t want to stop playing Drive, Putt and Chip until I made it to Augusta, because I knew that I could,” she said. “I knew that if I just practiced as hard as I could that I could win. I’ve put in so much time and now it’s worth it.”
The high score of the day came from Tejas Reddy of Johns Creek, Ga., who had 177 points and won the Boys 14-15 division. He said he was nervous about his driving, but he wound up winning that category. He was also first in putting.
“Going to Augusta is pretty important for me,” Reddy said. “I know it’s important for the history of golf, and it’s a good opportunity to see the course and meet some of the players. A lot of them inspired me when I was learning to play.”
Girls 7-9 winner Riley Adkins of Lawsonville, N.C., had a long car ride to reach the regional site, but it didn’t diminish her support network. More than a dozen family members showed up to cheer for her. She scored a personal-best 115 points.
Ashnoor Kaur of Roanoke, Va., won the Girls 10-11 division in her third appearance. A runner-up twice before, this time Kaur won handily by 25 points with her score of 137.
In his first trip to a regional, Jackson Skinner of Birmingham, Ala., scored 158 points and won the Boys 12-13 age group by three points, the closest margin of victory in any age bracket.
Michael Paull, executive director of the Georgia PGA, which conducted the qualifier, was impressed by the caliber of play witnessed at Atlanta Athletic Club on Sunday.
“We were fortunate to have so many good young golfers participate today,” Paull said. “And the Atlanta Athletic Club, with their ties to Bobby Jones, was a perfect setting for this competition.”
No doubt Mr. Jones would have been proud to see so many young, aspiring golfers enjoying the game, with eight realizing their dream of an invitation to compete at Augusta National.