- Drive, Chip and Putt photo
While the Green Jacket will be presented to the winner of The Masters on Sunday, Augusta National already played host to eight National Champions.
Before the pros take the course at Augusta National this week, the legendary course played host to one of the most unique events to take place during Masters Week; The Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. After postponing the 2020 National Finals as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Drive, Chip and Putt saw the return of 80 junior golfers, aged 7-15 participating in challenges centered around three key skills for any successful amateur golfer: Driving, Chipping, and Putting.
For the young golfers participating in the National Finals, the grind was real, as not only did they have to navigate the postponement of participating in the National Finals, they advanced through local, sub-regional, and regional qualifying rounds before taking the main stage at Augusta. Each of the eight champions claimed their trophy in their own way, so let’s recap each division.
Originally qualified as a nine-year-old, now 10-year-old Lucas Bernstein of Fresno, California did not finish in first place in driving, chipping or putting, but his solid all-around performance in each division allowed him to outpace the second-place competitor in the age group, Oklahoma City’s Chase Hughes, also 10.
Bernstein finished in third place in the driving skill with a long drive of 230.5 yards, second place in the chipping skill with a cumulative distance of 6’4” left to the hole, and in fifth place in the putting skill, leaving 4’4” to the cup between two puts. His score of 23 was one better than Hughes’ (Fifth, Third, Third in Driving, Chipping, and Putting, Respectively) score of 22.
Alexis Card, hailing from Cambridge, Ontario, captured the Girls 7-9 Age Division by placing first in her division in both driving (205.9 yards) and putting (3’ combined between her two putts, including a Hole-In-One on her second putt). Despite an 8th place performance in the chipping skill, 10-year-old Alexis and her final score of 23 were able to fend off fellow Canadian, nine-year-old Anna Wu of Victoria, British Columbia by two points.
“It went really well; I was really excited when I found out that I won. I put a lot of hard work into it and it was just really exciting to know it paid off,” Card told CTV news.
It was a tight race at the top of the Boys 10-11 age group. Of a possible 30 points, Brady Barnum, of Dublin, OH scored 28, following a 249.8-yard drive to place first in the driving skill, and holing his first putt, while leaving the second just seven inches away to capture first place in putting as well. The runner-up in the age group was Irving, TX’s Henry Guan (Class of 2026, AJGA #241 Junior Player) who finished in second place in each of the three skills.
For Barnum, who plays out of Muirfield Village, it was very exciting to win at Augusta before “growing old.”
"COVID made things really hard. I've always wanted to get here," he said following the competition. "It feels really good to win here before I even grow old and maybe I play The Masters.”
With 21.5 points, Tampa, FL 12-year-old Elyse Meerdink outlasted three other competitors in her age group, who all finished tied for second with 20 points apiece. Meerdink’s two chips, totaling 11’0 distance from the pin, were good enough to win the skill for her age group, while her 227.5-yard-long drive had her in third place in that skill. Despite a hole-in-one on her second putt, Meerdink finished tied for seventh in putting with a final distance of 8’5”.
Of the three runners-up, neither Portland, Oregon’s Kate Ly or Diamondhead, MS native Karstyn Altese were able to place first in any of the three skills, instead tallying their 20 points through a series of consistent points. The third member of those who finished T-2, Jessica Hudson of San Marcos, CA, won the long drive skill with a 237.3-yard drive.
After hitting his first drive outside of the scoring grid, Sam Udovich (AJGA #982, Class of 2025) crushed his second attempt 270.9 yards to win the skill. He followed that up with two chips a combined 2’3” from the cup to win that skill as well. Despite a ninth-place finish in putting (with a very respectable 7’4” combined distance), the Inver Grove Heights, MN native held off the rest of his age group with a final score of 22. Queensbury, New York’s Brayden Dock, and Myrtle Beach’s Gavin Hutchinson finished tied for second with 20 points apiece.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Udovich was quite excited for his title, but was more excited about who congratulated him during the event; the third-ranked golfer in the world, Justin Thomas.
"He just came over and said, 'Hey, great job, congratulations.' He was going to tee off in like two minutes, so it was great for him to say congratulations," Udovich said.
High school freshman Yana Wilson (AJGA #16, Class of 2024) of Henderson, Nevada, holed her second chip to take first place in the chipping event, while her second drive of 253.3 yards was good enough for second place. Coupling those scores with a seventh place putting finish, Wilson’s 23 points were one better than second place finisher Lucy Yuan (AJGA #25, Class of 2024) of San Diego, CA. Yuan won the driving skill in the age group with a long drive of 258.2 yards.
This was Wilson’s second consecutive Drive, Chip and Putt National Title, following a win in 2019. "Honestly, I had no expectations going into this," she told the Associated Press. "But to repeat is just amazing."
It would typically be tough to describe a National Final in any sport as a “runaway” victory. However, for Jaivir Pande (AJGA #114, Class of 2023), he finished no lower than second place in any skill, compiling 28 total points, seven clear of his nearest competitor, Nicholas Kilgore of Las Vegas. Pande, hailing from Houston, TX, holed his second putt to win the skill, and finished in second place in both driving (273.2 yards) and chipping (10’4” total distance to the pin.) Kilgore was able to edge Pande in the long drive by two yards to take first in the skill.
It was Pande’s first trip to compete at Augusta, after trying three previous times to qualify, narrowly missing out each time at the hands of his good friend, Treed Huang (AJGA #171, Class of 2023)
It was another Henderson, NV native who won the girls 14-15 division. Ali Mulhall (who is good friends with Yana Wilson) placed first in both the driving and chipping skills for her age group, with a 251.2-yard drive, and combined 3’6” distance to the hole after two chips. Her third-place finish in the putting skill netted her a total of 28 points, five clear of her nearest competitor, Kasey Maralack (AJGA #339, Class of 2022) of Snoqualmie, Washington.
It was Mulhall’s second trip to the National Finals.
“I think the first year, I was more in awe of what was happening and where I was at, and this year, I kept my nerves steadier,” Mulhall told WTOC. “I was able to take it in more and just stay even throughout the whole competition.”
With the professionals taking the course this weekend, one wonders if it will be driving, chipping or putting that allows a member of the field to take home the legendary green jacket. If they need any pointers, we have the names of eight champions they can consult.