JC Golf: Drive, Chip and Putt at Encinitas Ranch Q & A

 

 

Image

          A year ago, the PGA instituted its answer to the NFL’s long-standing “Punt, Pass and Kick” youth skills competition with “Drive, Chip & Putt.”

          The competition culminated in the finals being held at Augusta National the week of the Masters, which got the attention of youth golfers everywhere – and their parents.

          Seeing the finalists on television at the Masters, including 11-year-old Lucy Li, who played in last week’s LPGA U.S. Open, has already sparked a rise in this year’s turnout. To handle the anticipated increase, the Southern California PGA has expanded the number of Southern California local qualifiers from 10 to 14, including one for the first time at Encinitas Ranch on July 7th.

          Finalists in the four age divisions for boys and girls at Encinitas Ranch will advance to a sub-regional on Aug. 18th at La Costa Resort and Spa and then on to Torrey Pines on Sept. 13th to compete for the trip to Augusta.

          Matt Gilson, Player Development Manager at the Southern California PGA, took a few minutes recently to answer some questions about this year’s competition.

Q. Southern California had two winners at last year’s inaugural competition at Augusta. What was their experience like?

A. Everybody had a blast. They got to meet (past champion) Adam Scott and (current champion) Bubba Watson. Going to the Master is every golfer’s dream come true. And they got everything covered for them and one parent, including tickets to the practice round on Monday. The whole package was really good.”

Q. How much has seeing all that one TV stirred interest this time around?

Sign-ups were a little slow because we were competing with school, but they’re starting to pick up. We’re definitely seeing an increase in participation. And I’ve seen kids who’ve never picked up a club before now going to the range the week before. There’s definitely motivation there with kids realizing they could end up on TV.

Q. Besides the increased number of qualifiers, how has the competition changed in year two? And what are the age categories?

Last year, we maxed out our qualifiers at 120 participants and this year it’s 200. The age ranges are 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 with both boys and girls division. And those ages are determined by how old they would be on April 5th, 2015, which is the date of the national championship, so the youngest age to enter would be 6 if they would but 7 on or by April 5th, 2015.

Q. How does the competition work?

It’s a nine-shot competition that starts with putting. There’s a 6-foot putt, a 15 foot and a 30 foot. The hole is surrounded by scoring rings that provide points for how close they get. The max is 25 points for a holed putt.

They then have three chip shots, from about 12-15 yards, to a hole with scoring rings out to 10 feet and a make, again, is worth 25 points.

Then they have three swings on a 40-by-300-yard grid on a driving range. Beyond 300 yards is 25 points.

The highest total score wins and the top three in each age division advances from that age group’s qualifier to the next round. The top two in the sub-regional advance to Torrey Pines and the boy and girl winner in each division advances to the championship at Augusta.

Q. How do players or parents register, and how much does it cost?

Registration is free, and players sign up at www.drivechipandputt.com.

Q. What’s the atmosphere like at these events?

It’s competitive, but we still want kids to have fun. That’s the most important thing.

 

Advertisements

Highlight Hole: No. 18 at Aviara

Image

The view of No. 18 from last year’s tournament

         As finishing holes go in San Diego, few, if any, come much tougher than No. 18 at Aviara.

         This dogleg right par-4 wraps around a lake that runs along most of the fairway and to the green, providing a serene and aesthetically pleasing finish, but also one that’s been known to swallow a lot of golf balls.

This hole was a major factor in the LPGA’s KIA Classic last year and not just because it hosted the two-hole playoff won by Beatriz Recari. It played as the toughest hole of the tournament, averaging well over par.

Aviara Director of Golf Renny Brown says the hole plays unusually tough for the tournament because of a unique circumstance.

“From the fairway, the grandstand build-out blocks the wind, so the flag doesn’t move. A lot of girls were coming up short last year because when the ball would get above the grandstand, the wind would knock it down,” Brown says. “They had trouble gauging the wind.”

The wind on 18 blows off the Pacific Ocean and Batiquitos lagoon, making it play even longer than the 413 yards from the blue tees, which is what the Kia uses.

The tee shot alone is challenge here to say the least. Besides water on your right, you’ve got out of bounds and bunkers lurking on your left. With the wind blowing, this fairway can feel very small.

According to a review of Aviara at worldgolf.com, Arnold Palmer once described this as the toughest finishing hole he’s ever designed.

It quoted Palmer as saying, “You have the lagoon on the left and a pond and waterfall to the right. Even if you hit a strong drive, you have to think on the approach, because the fairway narrows to 20 yards.

“It took me a long time to realize you need to be safe and go for the back of the green (on your second shot) to stay away from the water.”

At the Kia media day, Recari offered her professional opinion on how to play 18 from the tee.

“You have to play to the right, just inside the bunker,” Recari says. “I usually hit driver, but I hit 3-wood there last year (in the playoff) because the wind was up.

“If you land it to the right of that bunker, you’ve got a good chance.”

Image

         Recari plays a draw, as do I, which makes a driver a nervous play here for me. I took Recari’s advice on media day and pulled 3-wood. I hit the best shot I’ve ever hit on 18 and, though a little too close to the lake, I had 160 to get home and a good lie. And then … yank. OB.

I’ve done this the last three times (grrr) I’ve had played this hole. I suspect the wind is at work, though it mostly factors in in that it leaves me one club longer than what I’d prefer – my 7 iron.

Therefore, unfortunately, I can’t speak to going for birdie or par here, but Brown has a tip about reading putts on 18.

“Forget about putts breaking to the ocean,” he says. “Once you’re standing on the green, look back toward the fairway and use that tilt to judge the putt.”

Speaking of putts, new this year is a plaque on 18 honoring where Recari hit her winning putt from the fringe last year.

As well all know, hitting Aviara’s helipad-size green is one thing; putting them is another.

And given how straight the female Tour players hit it, putting is everything at the Kia, Brown says.

“The winner out here is going to be someone who’s top five in putting,” he says. “The greens are so massive out here that it becomes a putting contest.”

While 18 has a fierce reputation, Brown says it’s actually the second of closing one-two punch for the women, given that No. 17, a par-5, is the longest hole on the LPGA at 565 yards.

That leaves the drivable par-4 16th as the best last stand for birdie. Because if it comes down to 18, you’re really going to earn it.

For my part, I plan to stake out 18 this week until I see a birdie, just to see what one looks like there. And while I’m waiting, maybe I’ll go see if any of my old approach shots are still buried beneath the brush on the Batiquitos trail.

 Image