by G. Rennie
A love fest broke out today at Augusta National Golf Club as the club played host to the inaugural Drive Chip & Putt Championship, a competition among young golfers ages seven through fifteen. Eighty eight competitors, boys and girls, brought their games to the most honored course in the U.S. having qualified through regional skills completions held last summer which were conducted under the auspicious of the PGA of America.
There hasn’t been any event quite like this before simply because access to Augusta National has always been so limited. The Master’s ushers in spring every year, we get a week long glimpse into golfing heaven on earth and then it’s gone and we wait another long year for its return. But this year the celebration of golf started earlier than usual and the cast of characters was totally different than those we’ll be rooting for come Thursday. And that was part of the charm of this event.
These kids had a ball out there but I don’t think they had near the fun that the adults who were in attendance had, especially those in the media who were covering the event for The Golf Channel. We know that sports announcers are hard core sports fanatics deep down but the dictates of professional objectivity put a real constraint on on-air cheering for individuals competing in the weekly PGA Tour, LPGA, Web.com, and European Tour events. But not today as the Rich Lerner, Brandel Chamblee, Curt Byrum, Steve Sands, Charlie Rymer and the rest of the Golf Channel crew were caught up in the novelty and incongruity of kids playing on the vaunted confines of Augusta.
What shone through with this crew was sheer delight in being part of the this high profile effort to grow the game. Growing the game of golf is about love of the game. And most golfers were introduced to the game by their father or mother or both. Memories of their own time playing with their parents surely set the backdrop for these announcers as they gushed and fussed over these precocious players.
From the players today there were braces galore, good manners and etiquette on display, a bit of nerves, and great shots aplenty.
Charlie Rymer, the resident funny man from Morning Drive, absolutely had the biggest blast of all. He conducted interviews with some players on his knees or in a crouch to get down to eye level. And that was a fitting posture as this event is aimed at welcoming youngsters into a game that has all too often erected many barriers to the young player.
Congratulations and gratitude go out to Augusta National, PGA of America, USGA and Golf Channel for their conception and collaboration on this unique event. I’m happy to see the recent contentiousness between the USGA and PGA over anchoring has been set aside as they cooperate to build and protect the game. It’s also a refreshing change up from the focus of past months over turmoil and conflict at the USGA between the revenue obsessed Glen Nager cohorts and the “golf guys” led by Mike Davis and newly installed President O’Toole.
A great day at Augusta is in the books. And now The Master’s week to come. Sweet.