Eight golfers advanced to the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 1, 2018; a week before the historic Masters Tournament. Five of them reside in the state of Minnesota.
In a field of 64 extremely talented golfers, these eight individuals shined brightest at the Drive, Chip and Putt Regional Qualifier at Interlachen Country Club. Amidst an intense environment and tough test, these players handled themselves tremendously and are well deserving of the opportunity to compete in the national finals next April.
Minnesotan Isabella McCauley, an eighth grader from Inver Grove Heights, won the Girls 14-15 age division with a total of 142 points. She won the Drive skill with 54 points and finished second with 65 in the Putt skill which led her to victory. This is McCauley’s second consecutive trip to Augusta National as she placed fifth in the national finals one year ago. She’s hoping for a better result this time around, “it’s amazing to be able to go for a second time. Last year was about having a good time and enjoying the experience. This time I’ll be able to handle my nerves better and hopefully win.”
Another native of Minnesota took home the Boys 14-15 age division, 15-year-old Corey Boerner of Bloomington. He also won with a score of 142, including a division-high 55 on the Putting skill. “I wasn’t expecting to win, honestly,” said Boerner. “I just came into it thinking I’m going to have fun. I played my heart out.” He plays his high school golf at Bloomington Kennedy. “This is huge. It’s pretty cool, and I’m very excited,” he added.
Vunnisa Vu, a 12-year-old from Maplewood, claimed the Girls 12-13 age division with a score of 122. She edged the defending national champion, Alexa Pano of Lake Worth, Fla., by a single point. Amazingly enough, golf might not even be her best sport as she began playing less than two years ago. She competed at the United States Tennis Association National Championship winning the consolation championship in Georgia earlier this year. Despite the decorated pedigree, she was nervous nonetheless, “I was pretty nervous and anxious. It’s exciting and I was surprised since the scores were so close.”
The fourth Minnesotan to qualify was Andrew Ramos of Blaine, Minn. as he won the Boys 12-13 division with 137 points. His performance was highlighted by draining his final, 30-foot putt for a score of 55 on the Putting skill. What he’s looking forward to most, “bringing my family, especially my brother to Augusta. Meeting the past champions and players, too.”
The first non-Minnesotan to clinch their spot in the national finals was Avery Zweig of McKinney, Texas who will be traveling to Augusta for the second time in three years. She scored 144 points in the Girls 10-11 division. She won the Drive and Chip portion last year at the national finals but struggled in the Putt skill finishing third overall. She made an emphasis on improving her putting before this season, “Falling short gave my motivation to make it back. I really, really want to win,” Zweig said with a grin. “It feels awesome to make it again, I had tons of nerves. Knowing what the experience is like at Augusta, I can’t wait.”
The fifth and final Minnesota native was Sam Udovich of West St. Paul who scored a competition-high 148 points to win the Boys 10-11 division. Udovich is also making his second appearance in the past three years, “When you realize that is for Augusta and it’s just nine shots, the nerves start to set in,” said Udovich. “I’m excited to go back.” Well, he sure didn’t show any signs of nervousness as he had a dominant performance.
The winners in the Girls and Boys 7-9 division were both from Wisconsin. Aliisa Helminen of Menasha and Aidan Antony of Milwaukee will also be traveling to Augusta. Helminen won with 79 points and Antony won with 110. Aliisa, the daughter of Wisconsin PGA Member and 2017 Tapemark Charity Pro-Am Ryan Helminen, called it a “dream come true” to be able to go to Augusta. Antony, an 8-year-old, forgot to bring his clubs to last year’s Regional Qualifier but redeemed himself this year with the trip of a lifetime, “I can’t wait to meet the players,” said Antony with a huge smile.
Congrats to this year’s National Finals qualifiers and all those who made it to the Regional!