VILLAGE OF PINEHURST — For one weekend, the road to Augusta National went through Pinehurst – with a detour to Athens, Georgia.
Hailing from the suburbs of Athens, the winners of the Boys and Girls 7-9 age group at Sunday’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship regional qualifier are former classmates who live just six miles apart near the northeastern Georgia city. Nine-year-olds Peter Sposato of Bishop and Claire Bradford of Watkinsville bested the field at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club and advanced to the finals at Augusta National on April 2, the Sunday leading up to the 2017 Masters.
All Sposato needed to do to punch his ticket to Augusta was sink a putt from 30 feet out — a tall task even for the PGA’s best.
No sweat. Sposato, whose favorite golfer is Jordan Spieth, buried the putt. It was a proud moment for his father, Chris Sposato, who had two boys competing Sunday — Dino Sposato finished third in the Boys 12-13 division.
“Exciting. Just an exciting moment,” Chris Sposato said. “And to share it as a family made it even more special.”
Putting was the final contest for each age group — each golfer getting three drives, three chips and three putts with scores based on distance (for driving) and accuracy.
Nine total shots. No mulligans. No room for error.
Bradford, wearing her red and black University of Georgia polo and teal glasses, didn’t need to land a long putt to win — she dominated her group’s drive and chip contests. Playing Augusta will be special for her and her family — her grandfather once worked the leaderboard on the famed. 15th at Amen Corner.
“It’s going to be really cool to play there,” Bradford said following her group’s medal ceremony. “I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like.”
The eight winners in Pinehurst on Sunday will make up a 10th of the 80-player field at the Drive, Chip and Putt finals in August (eight groups, 10 players per group). Joining Sposato and Bradford from the Pinehurst qualifier are Catherine Qiu of Ashburn, Va.; Carter Kontur of Lawrenceville, Ga.; Madilyn Newman, Knoxville, Tenn.; Clinton Daly, of Charlotte, N.C.; Karson Adkins, of Savannah, Tenn. and Jaron Leasure, of Virginia Beach, Va.
Madilyn Newman’s win in the Girls 12-13 division might sound improbable to anyone other than her father. According to Bryant Newman, his daughter was 9 when she saw a commercial for Drive, Chip and Putt as he watched the Masters. The commercial inspired Madilyn — three days later, she was in the backyard chipping. She registered the inaugural competition that same week.
Three years later, Newman came within inches of sinking her final 30-foot putt, earning enough points to advance to Augusta.
“Today is overwhelming,” her father said after snapping cellphone photos of the leaderboard with her high score highlighted in pink. “She got here because of hard work and natural ability. She’s had very little coaching. This is just something she really wants.”
Complete results from Pinehurst and other upcoming qualifying tournaments can be found at drivechipandputt.com.