Chinese-American children won the first four titles in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship on Sunday at Augusta National, one of them handed his trophy by reigning Masters champion Adam Scott.
Kelly Xu, a nine-year-old Californian, won the 9-10 girls crown to become the first female champion at the famed home of the Masters, an all-male club until 20 months ago.
“This is the best day of my life,” Xu said.
Xu, a fourth-grader whose favorite things about school are lunch and spelling, said being the first female champion at Augusta National was special.
“Winning this and seeing the reward for all the hard work I put in is most of what I’m feeling good about,” Xu said.
In all, four boys and four girls from 7-15 won age-group titles after scoring points in driving, chipping and putting contests.
Leo Cheng, an 11-year-old from California whose father is a stunt coordinator with Jackie Chan, sank a 20-foot putt on the 18th green to capture the 10-11 boys crown.
The putt was from the area where Scott sank his 20-foot birdie on the 72nd hole in last year’s Masters on his way to beating Angel Cabrera in a playoff to become the first Australian to win the Masters.
“I felt like Adam Scott when I was putting that,” Cheng said.
Minutes later, Cheng was greeted by Scott in a surprise at the trophy presentation.
“I thought the ceremonial duties would mean a lot in my career,” Scott said.
It meant a lot for Cheng as well.
“He told me, ’Great job,’ and ’You should be really proud of what you have accomplished,” Cheng said.
“I didn’t expect him to be signing autographs with me. I thought he would be out there playing with Vijay Singh and somebody.”
Cheng, whose family is from Beijing and Hong Kong, placed fourth in the driving distance contest that opened the competition in each of four age groups for boys and girls ages 7-15.
“I felt like my heart stopped for a second,” Cheng said.
After he won the chipping contest and sank his winning putt, complete with a right fist pump, Cheng was given a green jacket by his parents, one his mother bought during a family vacation to China after he had qualified to play at Augusta National.
While it lacks the official color and logo of Augusta National’s Masters champions jackets, it capped a day that brought a big smile to Cheng’s face.
“This was really a crazy experience,” he said.
Xu, who cited Augusta National co-founder and amateur legend Bobby Jones as her favorite golfer, said she felt the tension of playing at Augusta.
“I was extremely nerve-wracked,” she said. “But when I went to hit the ball I was extremely comfortable, like I had been doing this for a long time.”
Xu, whose grandparents live in China, has dreams of a green jacket as well.
“The trophy is pretty nice,” she said. “Next year they should make it green jackets.”
Treed Huang, the 7-9 boys winner whose parents came from Guangdong to America in 1998, was impressed with Augusta National.
“It’s beautiful,” the nine-year-old Texan said. “It’s much more than I ever expected.”
His father, Yufu Huang, was shocked to see his son holding the winner’s prize.
“We didn’t expect to win,” he said. “To win the Masters, that’s not even a dream right now.”
It is a dream for Lucy Li, the 10-11 girls winner from California who last year became the youngest qualifier in US Women’s Amateur history at age 10.
“It’s unbelievable,” said Li, whose family is from Hong Kong. “I was more nervous today because the US Amateur is just the US Amateur.
“I guess because of the Masters. It means a lot to be here where all the great players have won. It’s really amazing.”
The event, aimed at boosting golf’s decline in popularity in recent years, will add a third qualifying level next year and open to more than 50,000 players, triple the number who took part in qualifying rounds for this year’s competition.
“You have already achieved what every golfer dreams,” Augusta National chairman Billy Payne told competitors. “You have earned the right to compete at Augusta National.”