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VOL. 133 | NO. 115 | Friday, June 8, 2018
Don Wade

Don Wade

Drive, Chip & Putt … for a Lifetime

By Don Wade

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Where this golfing thing goes, Tommy Kellum doesn’t really know. His daughter Elizabeth has been playing since she was 6 years old and she has some talent.

She competed in the Girls 12-13 division at the Drive, Chip & Putt event held at TCP Southwind before the FedEx St. Jude Classic; and she has been at the game long enough that she can wax philosophical, saying that she when is playing well she feels “kind of calm,” and that she likes golf best “when I get a birdie or par … or when I don’t three-putt.”

So, yes, she’s a veteran.

“If it leads to a college scholarship, great,” her father said. “If not, at least she can play with me the rest of my life and have fun at it.”

She’s having fun now. Especially when she plays with her dad.

“I’ve lost a lot of Sonic shakes (hot fudge) on putting,” he said.

Elizabeth Kellum, whether she goes on to play golf in high school or beyond, is the future of the sport. She was one of more than 160 boys and girls ages 7-15 that competed in the free Drive, Putt & Chip event in Memphis. But there is also a multiplier effect at work: In all, there are more than 290 DCP local qualifiers in all 50 states, 57 Subregionals, 10 Regionals, and the competition will culminate with 80 boys and girls reaching the National Finals on April 7, 2019, at Augusta National Golf Club.

Drive, Putt & Chip only started five years ago, the product of a partnership among the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association and The PGA of America. Essentially, it is golf’s version of football’s Punt Pass & Kick or baseball’s old Pitch, Hit & Throw, which later became Pitch, Hit & Run.

In DPC, the young golfers get three attempts at each skill. Drives are scored on distance and must stay within a 40-foot wide fairway. Chips and putts are scored on proximity to the hole. The top three finishers in each boys and girls age division here advanced to the next round at The Grove near Nashville on July 26.

And the younger the players, the more practical the skills competition is compared to playing a round of golf.

“It’s a great way to grow the fundamentals of the game,” said Paul Stanek, Tennessee Section PGA operations manager. “They practice, warm up a little bit, they hit nine shots, then we do awards afterwards and it’s perfect for the younger divisions.

“And they get to come out here and compete on the same grass the pros are going to be on later in the week. They might not touch their clubs between now and next year, but they’re having fun.”

Twins Brittney and Bryant Karunda, age 7, had a good time and Brittney placed third in her division and advanced. Her father, Reuben Nganga, came over from Kenya 12 years ago and started golfing after buying a set of used clubs at a yard sale.

The twins’ older brother, Ben Nganga, 15, used to participate in DCP and is now a member of the White Station High School golf team.

“I’ve been practicing a lot,” Brittney said. “Every day now.”

Her father likes what the game teaches. The focus and discipline.

“The biggest thing, you can’t be mad at golf,” he said, sounding rather like a therapist for the masses. “You have to enjoy.”

That’s the whole point of Drive, Chip & Putt. Learn the game. Have fun. Find a sport for a lifetime.

That said, there was some real talent on display, too. Carson Daniel of Bolivar, Tennessee, who already had qualified for the youth 2018 World Championship at Pinehurst in August, finished second in the Boys 10-11 division.

He rolled in a 15-foot putt and dominated the driving competition with 200-yard bombs down the middle of the fairway. His 7-year-old brother Connor also advanced out of the local qualifier.

Their father, Kevin Daniel, laments that Carson doesn’t like to practice and that Connor “wants to be a professional Fortnite player.”

But worst case, Kevin has a couple of golfing buddies and taking Carson to the course – whether today or 25 years from now – is like having an extra club in the bag.

Said his father: “He’s handy to have in a scramble.”

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.

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