[PHOTO: courtesy Augusta National/Drive, Chip and Putt]

Australian junior Jesse Linden’s journey to Augusta National, for the annual Drive, Chip and Putt competition, is a success story 30 years in the making. It’s also a story about the sacrifices parents make for their children.

In 1993, Deryck Linden, who had grown up in South Africa playing junior golf against Zimbabwe’s Nick Price, moved his young family overseas from Johannesburg to Sydney due to the tensions during apartheid. Johannesburg was just too dangerous. Setting up shop in Australia, specifically Campelltown and Camden, was not cheap, though. Deryck simply didn’t have the money needed to fund his sons, Clint and Warren, in their pursuit of the golf dream.

“My dad gets emotional talking about it; he was the general manager of Camden Lakeside Country Club and he did so much for me and my brother, but he feels he could have done more,” Clint says.

Clint and Warren grew up playing against future Aussie tour pros such as Ewan Porter, James Nitties and Aron Price. Warren managed to turn pro and play the Sunshine Tour in South Africa in the early 2000s while Clint caddied for him.

More than 20 years later, Clint travels to the corners of the globe, literally, to provide his 12-year-old son, Jesse, all the opportunities he can. He also works his tail off running an electrical company to fund that travel. That investment paid off last year when Jesse became the first Australian to qualify in the 10-year history of Augusta National’s Drive, Chip and Putt competition. He made it through at a regional site in Houston last year, where he met Australian major winner, 1995 PGA champion Steve Elkington.

“As parents, we do whatever it takes,” Clint says.

What has it taken so far? The answer is somewhere between “a lot” and, “How long is a piece of string?”

Jesse first played competitive golf at Campbelltown Golf Club aged 5 and has gone onto the world junior golf stage since then. He has played every Junior World Championship at the famous Torrey Pines course, near San Diego, since Jesse was was 6. That elite junior tournament has previously been won by Jason Day. Jesse’s annual trip to California for the event included during COVID-19 in 2021, when Jesse was granted permission to leave Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“Hotel quarantine was maybe the hardest two weeks of our lives, but we got through it,” Clint says.

Here they are in Augusta, Georgia, in April 2024, about to play a competition created by Augusta National Golf Club in 2014 to grow junior golf around the US, and now the world. Jesse is the first Australian to compete. He’ll take part in the 12-13 years category, where he’ll undergo three skills challenges (Drive, Chip and Putt). He’ll hit three shots per skill for a total of nine shots. 

“I’m really excited, driving up Magnolia Lane will be really special,” Jesse says. “I’ll try my best but I’m also nervous at same time. My game has progressed a lot, and I’ve been putting in the work and the hours and practice.” Whatever Jesse’s result, he’ll relish that exposure to the production line of elite US juniors he’ll no doubt have to face in years to come.

The Lindens are now based in the New South Wales Hunter Valley, at The Vintage and Newcastle golf clubs, while Jesse is coached by Gavin Sutherland at Magenta Shores on the Central Coast.

“I drive it about 250-260 metres, but I’ve really been working hard on the short game the past four years or so,” Jesse says.

That work began to pay off in 2021 when Jesse won the Sean Foley World Stars of Junior Golf world championship in Las Vegas before that hotel quarantine stint. He played Moonah Links’ Open course on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula later that year and shot 65 and 64 playing off the white tees. That was only weeks after their Hunter Valley neighbour, tour professional Blake Windred, won the 2021 Vic PGA at the same course from the men’s tournament tees.

“That gave me belief I could maybe become a pro one day,” Jesse says. “I want to make a career out of it.”

Jesse’s future plans are to play college golf in the US. “We are going tp look around the campus at Arizona State University in June (the former college of Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson) but, through a mutual friend, we have also befriended Sam Bennett and may want to have a look at his former college, Texas A&M,” Clint says.

Bennett last year took global headlines as an amateur who had won the 2022 US Amateur and once at Augusta National was in contention through two rounds at the Masters. He’s since turned pro.

Jesse would love to one day play in the Masters, whether that’s as an amateur, through avenues such as the Asia-Pacific Amateur or the US Amateur, or as a professional. “I’d take any pathway into the Masters; that would be an absolute dream and I’m willing to put in the work,” Jesse says.

If he does earn that invitation, no doubt dad will be right alongside him. And no doubt, Clint will be thinking of his father, Deryck, who made it all possible 30 years ago.