Drive, chip and some big putts by the kids at Augusta

Published 3:00 pm Monday, April 6, 2015

AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) — Toby Wilson had a Sunday to remember. The 15-year-old from Tennessee bumped into former Masters champion Fred Couples for a quick chat, hit two tee shots that went out of bounds and rallied to leave Augusta National with a trophy.

Wilson was among eight winners of the second annual “Drive, Chip and Putt Championship” on the final day before practice for the Masters begins.

He was among two players with rallies that would have made Jack Nicklaus proud.

And the chat with Couples ended with Mr. Cool telling the teenager to “Go get ’em,” Wilson tied for last in the driving competition by not getting a tee shot in play.

Not to worry. He won the chipping and putting competition and wound up a winner in the 14-15 boys division.

It was not much different from the start of 9-year-old Jay Leng Jr. of San Diego County.

Leng already is a prolific winner, including the U.S. Kids World Championship at Mid-Pines. He has experience competing. But he had one slice and another duck-hook and finished ninth among the 10 players in the 9-10 division. He figured his chances were over until he won the chipping and putting to get into a playoff, and then won with a putt on the 18th hole to win the trophy.

The only problem? Nick Faldo presented the trophy and accidentally broke it.

“He said, ‘Does the Masters have super glue?'” Leng said.

Morgan Goldstein was at Augusta National for the second straight year, this time as a player. The 13-year-old from Las Vegas watched her younger brother, Aidan, finish fourth last year. She narrowly missed out in regional qualifying last year, and this time earned a spot from the Rocky Mountain region.

And then she dominated.

Goldstein won the driving contest. She won the chipping contest. And then she won the putting contest to capture the girls 12-13 division.

“It was amazing to be out there, and my chipping was really good,” she said. “I just needed to concentrate. And it was me, the hole and the ball.”

Faldo was among eight former champions, all dressed in their green jackets, who presented the trophies to the individual and overall champions from each age group.

The other winners:

— Effie Perakis from Glenview, Illinois (girls 7-9)

— Lydia Swan of North East, Pennsylvania (girls 10-11)

— Jake Peacock of Alpharetta, Georgia (boys 10-11)

— George Duangmanee of Fairfax, Virginia (boys 12-13)

— Alexandra Swayne of Mainesville, Ohio (girls 14-15).

Kelly Xu of Santa Monica, California, went up an age division to girls 10-11, and then she discovered what 75 of the some of the world’s best players have learned over the years — it’s not easy to win back-to-back at Augusta National.

Xu was the first player to win a trophy a year ago. She was in New York last year with Bubba Watson to promote the event. She finished eighth.


GENTLE BEN’S BIG PUTT: Ben Crenshaw is playing the Masters for the last time this year. He won in 1984 and 1995, and his first Masters victory was notable for the 60-foot putt he made for birdie on No. 10 on his way to a 68 in the final round for a two-shot victory.

Was that his best putt? Not to Nick Faldo.

Faldo played with Crenshaw in the final round that year, and what he remembers is a 12-foot par putt over the ridge on the 14th.

“That sent a message to me,” Faldo said. “There are certain holes — not the obvious ones — you’ve got to really gut it out at times. It’s not the highlight holes. It’s the seventh and eighth that are just as important as holing the one on 10 or what you do on 18. It’s gutting out putts or shots that would miss the highlight reel.”


BUBBA THE FAVORITE: Rory McIlroy is No. 1 in the world and going after the career Grand Slam at the Masters. But when the eight winners of the “Drive, Chip and Putt Championship” were asked to pick a winner, his name didn’t come up.

Six of them picked defending champion Bubba Watson. Toby Wilson, who won the boys 14-15 division, split his vote between Watson and Phil Mickelson (not surprisingly, Wilson also plays left-handed). Rickie Fowler received one vote. Jordan Spieth got the other.


PLAYOFF DEBATE: The Masters is the only major that uses sudden death in a playoff. The U.S. Open still has an 18-hole playoff, while the British Open (four holes) and the PGA Championship (three holes) uses aggregate scoring.

Fuzzy Zoeller and Nick Faldo have been in playoffs at the Masters and U.S. Open. They disagree on the best format.

“For the fans, to crown a champion on the evening of the tournament is the way to do it,” he said. “Play until someone wins. I like sudden death. You lose, you’re out. Just ask Kentucky.”

Zoeller won the first sudden-death playoff in Masters history in 1979, making him the first player since Gene Sarazen in 1935 to win the Masters on his first try. He also won an 18-hole playoff over Greg Norman at Winged Foot in the 1984 U.S. Open.

“Mondays are hard,” Zoeller said. “After you’ve whipped it around there four solid days, and then wake back up and face the golf course again, you’re mentally drained.”

Faldo won two Masters in playoffs — in 1989 over Scott Hoch and in 1990 over Raymond Floyd. He lost a U.S. Open playoff to Curtis Strange in 1988. Faldo, however, doesn’t like the idea of one shot deciding a champion. He was given a reprieve in 1989 when Hoch missed a 3-foot putt on the first extra hole.

“It’s harsh, isn’t it?” Faldo said of sudden death. “You’ve done your bit for 72 holes and then it’s one shot. One is a champion, one is not.”