Henry Augenstein’s favorite Masters moment came a few years ago when his favorite golfer, Phil Mickelson, gave him a fist bump as he walked off the 18th green.
Perhaps the 15-year-old from Columbia will get a chance to give a famous golfer a fist bump of his own Sunday when he competes in the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club.
Augenstein is one of 88 competitors who made it through local and regional qualifying last summer to earn a trip to Augusta. There are four age groups – 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 – and separate divisions for boys and girls.
The competition is unique in that it will utilize Augusta National’s world-famous facilities on the eve of the 78th Masters Tournament.
Participants will hit drives and chips on the Tournament Practice Range. For the putting portion, they will move to the practice putting green next to the clubhouse for the first two putts. And for the final putt, they will go to the 18th green and attempt a 20-foot putt.
Just like the one Adam Scott made in 2013 before defeating Angel Cabrera in a playoff.
“That’s going to be awesome,” Augenstein said.
As part of its “grow the game” initiative, the Masters Tournament Foundation partnered with the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America to create the event. It was announced during last year’s Masters, and more than 17,000 youngsters attempted to qualify.
At the 110 local qualifying sites, golfers advanced to 11 regional finals held across the U.S. The fierce competition produced the final 88 who will get the chance of a lifetime.
“That’s really an amazing opportunity,” said Matt Kuchar, who grabbed the spotlight in 1998 as an amateur in his Masters debut. “If you’re a golfer, just being around Augusta is just a huge highlight. It would be like a football player getting to do something during the Super Bowl.”
That’s exactly the idea that Masters and Augusta National chairman Billy Payne shared with Glen Nager, then-president of the USGA, and Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA.
“We all share the belief that if we can make golf fun, kids will come,” Payne said last year in announcing the event.
The Golf Channel will televise the competition live with a preview show beginning at 8 a.m., followed by action from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
The highlight will be the chance to putt on the final hole at Augusta National.
“We’ve all had those games when you were a kid on a green making a 5-footer to win the Masters,” 2007 Masters winner Zach Johnson said. “They won’t have it to that degree, but it’s more of a reality because it’s going to be on site, on the 18th green, hitting putts.”
Augusta National sold tickets to the competition via a lottery system similar to the one used for practice round tickets. Patrons will have access to the practice areas, putting green near the clubhouse and the 18th green area, but will not be allowed to visit other areas of the course.
Rheagan Hall doesn’t think she will have a problem performing in front of a big gallery. But judging the speed of Augusta National’s greens might be a different story.
“I know they are going to be very fast,” said Hall, a 14-year-old from Charleston, Tenn. “But I know I’ll have to work on the speed of the greens.”
Like Augenstein, this won’t be Hall’s first visit to the Masters. She came two years ago, and that might give her a leg up on some of the other competitors who will make their first visit this weekend.
“It’s definitely the nicest course I’ve been on,” Hall said. “Some people have never had the chance to do that.”
Staff writer Scott Michaux contributed to this article.