[PHOTO: Maddie Meyer]

There’s pressure and then there’s hometown pressure. And when your hometown is home to one of the biggest tournaments in the world – along with one of the biggest junior events in the game – well, let’s just say there’s no escaping the feeling.

“On the range, he was stone-cold quiet,” said Earl Madison as he watched his normally talkative 13-year-old son, Kipp, on Sunday. “That’s when you knew there were some nerves.”

The Madisons hail from Augusta, Georgia, and had several dozen friends and family following as Kipp competed in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Final at Augusta National Golf Club, with plenty more watching on TV. The anticipation had been building since the young lefty qualified for the final last September, the fifth golfer from Augusta to earn a spot in the DCP since its inception 10 years ago. None, however, had won an age group title, including Kipp’s younger brother, Zane, who qualified in 2022.

These photos from the 2024 Drive, Chip and Putt Finals have all the feels

In recent months, Kipp had put in extra time at nearby West Lake Country Club to prepare for the moment, even sneaking in one last practice session on Saturday. But it seemed it was all going to go for nought when Kipp’s first swing failed to land in-bounds on Augusta National practice range. Now everything was riding on his second and final drive.

“I just took a deep breath and said, ‘I can do this,’” Kipp said. “I tried to just pretend it was like any other shot I ever hit.”

2024 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals
Photo: Thomas Lovelock

The quick fix was just what Kipp needed. From there, he rose to the occasion, hitting his second drive 252.7 yards to finish second in the category. He had the momentum he needed to move on and next win the chip category and, eventually, claim the overall title in his Boys 12-13 age group.

From nervousness sprung relief and gratitude. “To be only 15 minutes away and make it is just crazy,” Kipp said, “but then to come here and win it is just another step of excitement. I mean, when I saw that I actually won here, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this can’t be real. I’m in a dream.’ So I was just so excited. To win at Augusta is just a dream come true.”

Similar sentiment was expressed by the other seven winners who had to travel a bit further.

“It means so much. I’ve been practising so hard for two years and now the hard work has finally paid off,” said Madison Pyatt, a 9-year-old from Eureka, Missouri, who claimed the title in the Girls 7-9 age group.

Madison Pyatt [left] smiles after taking the title in the Girls 7-9 age group. [Photo: Maddie Meyer]
Masters participants, even tour pro veterans who have competed in the men’s major several times, often remark about first-tee jitters when playing at Augusta. So how do young players, many of whom have never competed in front of this many spectators – or a national TV audience – handle the spectre of competing at Augusta National? Their responses are simple, yet applicable to golfers of all skill levels.

“I took four deep breaths and just thought about myself and not the other competitors,” said Lily Wachter, winner of the Girls 10-11 age group.

Texas Tyler needed to get his final putt inside two feet to win the Boys 10-11 age group. “My legs were shaking like a waterfall,” he said. “I was like a noodle, pretty much.”

But he did it. And he claims thinking back to past success was the key to getting his mind right and getting the job done.

“I would say it’s just my confidence. I won the US Kids World Championship and I remember there’s 90 kids watching on the last hole and then I had like a 50-footer, and I lagged it up to like a foot. I just think it comes with work and when you work so hard and you’re there at the golf course every day for a couple of hours it just builds confidence. When it comes under pressure you just have that confidence and know it’s just going to be alright.”

Texas Terry says leaning on confidence from past success is the key to handling pressure moments. [Photo: Maddie Meyer]
Indeed, having the right attitude can go a long way to making sure nerves don’t get the best of you.

“Golf is a hard sport. It’s one of those sports where it’s not a game of perfect,” said Karis Reid, the winner of the Girls 12-13 age group. “You’re going to hit bad shots; you’re going to hit good shots and you just have to move on. My first chip I didn’t hit it great, could’ve hit it better and then I hit my second one closer. It’s just a game of imperfection.”