Playing by the Rules - August 2013

I usually use this space to write about interpreting the rules, questions on or things being discussed relating to the Rules.

This month though I want to take a little break from that and share some thoughts with you on something very different.

When it was announced several months ago that the PGA of America, the USGA and the Augusta National Golf Club were going to enter into a joint venture to promote the game by virtue of a country wide Drive, Chip & Putt competition. I thought it all sounded like something of a gimmick, and was a rip-off of the NFL’s long standing Punt, Pass & Kick competitions, held every year across the country.

Nevertheless, I also had to believe that anything that could result in a trip to Augusta on the Sunday before Masters Week had to be something that would draw interest from people who might not otherwise be inclined to enter into a golf competition, some who might not even play the game.

After having had the opportunity to be a part of the NEPGA team working at these qualifying events throughout our Section, the same ones that many of you have come out to volunteer your time at, I have had a total change in the way I look at this.

First, there really is something magical about Augusta National and the Masters. I remember as a kid always wanting to watch the Masters on Sunday with my dad who was a huge sports fan, to see who would win that year. That was long before I ever thought about swinging a golf club, when all I cared about was baseball, when I was convinced I was going to be pitching at Fenway Park some day for the Red Sox.

I don’t think that has changed much with many of today’s young men and women either. While you can tell many of the kids who have showed up at the Drive, Chip and Putt qualifiers are regular golfers, there are also a significant number of kids that you can tell are good athletes, but probably don’t play golf on a regular basis. Some probably go to a driving range now and then with their friends or family and they score points in the Drive part of the competition. Others are gifted with above average hand-eye coordination and can chip and/or putt, sometimes both. Whatever their strength or weakness though, you can tell that the thought of going to Augusta National in April is as important to them as it is to every player on the PGA Tour.

Now I have to say that any time you have kids, you also have parents, and we all know how that can work out. What’s the term, Little League parents? However, I am happy to say that outside of a few isolated incidents I have not seen too many cases where the kids aren’t having a good time and genuinely seemed to want to be there, with or without the prodding of mom and dad. Very refreshing, although I must confess I can actually understand how some moms and dads might actually seem a little more excited than their sons and daughters when the qualifiers for the finals at Pinehills, the last stop before Augusta, are announced at the end of each event. It would be a pretty cool experience to be at Augusta National, watching your son or daughter hitting drives, chips and putts on the same ground Bobby, Jack, Arnie, Gary, Tiger, Phil, etc. have in the past.

I never like to admit that I might have been wrong about something, but in this case, I was. Sometimes a simple concept, not involving going out and shooting the best score for seventy-two holes, can provide a child, who might not ever become proficient enough playing the game to win that seventy-two hole competition, and his parents with the opportunity of a lifetime. To be at the home of the Masters, hitting drives, chips and putts, wow doesn’t get much better than that.

Back when I was still dreaming about Fenway, I might even have been enticed to put my glove away for a couple of days and started practicing my driving, chipping and putting.

Before I close, I have to say that the turnaround time between the announcement of this event and the start of the sectional qualifiers was extremely short. However, as usual, Ben Vandal, Dave McAdams and Executive Director Michael Higgins (one or all have been at every qualifier) stepped up and made it happen seamlessly. PGA of America’s Mike Packard and Brian Bain have also been at most of the qualifiers. Meanwhile I, as well as several other staff, Mick Herron, Jacy Settles and Intern extraordinaire Nick Erlichman have helped out when our schedules allowed.

Because of those people, along with so many of you who have helped by volunteering your time and energy, we have been able to get things done. I think the proudest day for all of us came when Augusta National Co-Head Professional J.J. Weaver flew in to attend the qualifier at Granite Links Golf Club. At the end of that day, J.J. (who by the way, had a rock star presence, that Augusta thing again, amongst the contestants and parents) commented he had been to several of the other Sections to attend qualifiers and we ranked right up there with the best of them. That’s because of hard work from Ben and the willingness of all of our host Professionals and their clubs to interrupt their daily operation to accommodate the taking over of their practice range and putting green for four to five hours.

This truly has been a team effort, we thank all of you have stepped up to host and help. If you didn’t get to do it this year, think about trying to get out next year and give us hand. By the way, I have no doubt there will be a next year for this event. For all the TV spots and programs that have been created and continue to be developed to promote the game, I have never seen a single event/concept do as much to elicit enthusiasm among parents, kids and even some formerly skeptical staff (me) as this one.

The Masters and Augusta National, as Jim Nantz would say “A tradition unlike any other.”

I think we may have just witnessed the start of another tradition, the Drive, Chip & Putt.

See you down the road,