LA JOLLA, Calif. – You had a past National Champion book her return ticket after a year away and another National Finalist book his return ticket after a year away.
You had a player overwhelm his nearest competition by 26 points – in his last opportunity to qualify for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals – by putting on a driving exhibition that would have impressed the pros who frequent Torrey Pines every February for the Farmer’s Invitational.
And all of them played understudy at the Drive, Chip and Putt Western Regional to a couple of 9-year-olds who made history in the dark.
Yes, the sun may have set over the nearby Pacific, but it didn’t set on Grace Oh of La Canada, Calif. and Randli Olsen of South Jordan, Utah, a couple of nerveless 9-year-olds who competed in the first playoff in Western Regional history.
With the sun a memory and the playoff format of one shot per discipline getting its first workout in this regional, Oh prevailed, 22-12, overcoming a nervous putter that earned her two points on that discipline. She managed 10 points on her chip and 10 on her driver – the club she said she’s “liked the best since I was born.” Olsen got five points on her putt, one on her chip and six on her drive.
“I was very confident on my driver. I hit it hard and straight,” said the calm Oh.
This bit of event history came after the two finished the Girls 7-9 division – the last of the eight age-group divisions — tied with 81 points after Oh won the driving discipline with 29 points and Olsen won the chipping discipline with 40.
“I was very surprised because we looked at the scoreboard and we saw it was tied. I wondered what are we going to do,” Oh said. “One of the volunteers who helped us said, ‘You guys are going on a playoff. We were like, ‘Ohhh.’ We were very surprised.”
Both of Olsen’s parents work at Glen Moor Golf Course in South Jordan, Utah; her father, Joey is the superintendent and her mother, Darcy, a golf pro, which explains Olsen’s calm and placid demeanor. She displayed a maturity beyond her years, shaking off any disappointment at missing a trip to Augusta National in only her second Drive, Chip and Putt season.
“No, (I’m not disappointed). Not really. I’m just so glad I can be here with my parents at Torrey Pines,” Olsen said. “I was happy with the way I played.”
That describes the 2019 versions of Lucy Yuan of nearby San Diego and Cole Kim of La Crescenta, Calif. Both returned to the regional at Torrey and both earned their second return trip to Augusta National a year after neither managed to get out of the subregional.
Yuan, the Girls 10-11 Division Drive, Chip and Putt National Champion in 2017, won the Girls 12-13 Division with 147 points, dominating with her driver (a division-best 61 points) and putter (55). In so doing, she prevailed over a deep division featuring three other players with National Finals experience: Mia Cepeda (Kaawa, Hawaii), Alexis Vakasiuola (San Tan Valley, Ariz.) and Kristina Xu (Claremont, Calif.). Both Cepeda and Vakasiuola came out of this regional last year.
“Last year, my short game wasn’t together and I didn’t perform as well as I should have. But that’s fine. I learned from my mistakes and I improved to today,” said Yuan, who played in a San Diego Junior Golf Association pairs tournament at Torrey Pines in the morning. “I worked a lot on my putting and chipping, how to get my feel down and not changing too much between shots. My short game is even better now.
“I feel like the experience is going to be a lot less nervewracking for me. I’ve experienced the tournament, I’ve experienced the players and now, it’s like going back and repeating what I’ve done.”
Kim, whose 151 points gave him the Boys 10-11 Division title by 31 points, won the Western Regional in 2017, finishing fourth in the National Finals. He talked excitedly about the experience of putting on Augusta National’s 18th green and how he can’t wait to get back there. When he returns next spring, he’ll be bringing a hot putter that earned him a perfect score – 75 – in the putting discipline.
“I did OK. I finished fourth. But I learned Augusta’s greens are really fast,” he said. “I also learned if I try hard, I can make it to Augusta and I did. I remember practicing on the greens and I remember the green speeds.”
None of that will follow Nicholas Kilgore of Las Vegas, who will make that pilgrimage for the first time in his last year in the competition. Kilgore destroyed the Boys 14-15 Division with the day’s best score – 172 points. He broke 60 points out of a possible 75 in two of the three disciplines and his 67 points in driving won that discipline as it turned heads and dropped jaws.
“I’ve always been powerful off the tee. I don’t really know how I hit it this far, because I’m skinny. I don’t know how. I just do,” said the 5-foot-8 Kilgore, who was blasting nearly 300-yard drives into the wind.
Joining Oh, Yuan, Kim and Kilgore in the National Finals next spring will be fellow age-group winners Sofina Firouzi (Girls 14-15) of Rancho Santa Fe., Calif, who won her division with 133 points; Ryan Sefrioui (Boys 12-13), of Scottsdale, Ariz., who won his division by two points (140-138); Jessica Hudson (Girls 10-11) of San Marcos, Calif., who won her division by two points (120-118) and Pierson Huyck (142 points in Boys 7-9) of Scottsdale, Ariz., who beat two friends he made on the golf course: Alejandro Sebastian Fischer (112) and Maverick Midthun (110).
All are in for a treat every one of them has watched on TV.
“When I watched this, I think it’s pretty cool and I thought I would like to have that opportunity,” Sefrioui said. “Regardless of outcome, I want to meet the players and have fun at Augusta. Because it’s Augusta.”
Written by Brian Robin