On an April Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club, Leo Cheng walked the 18th green, lined up the 20-foot putt and found the hole.
A green jacket was waiting for the 11-year-old.
Leo, from Northridge, Calif., was one of eight overall winners at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship National Finals. After he won the boys 10-11 group and made the putt on No. 18 that was similar to 2013 champion Adam Scott’s clutch make last year, Leo donned the mini-jacket his parents bought for him in China.
With Scott unexpectedly in the trophy area, Leo got a hat signed and a quick picture. The two champions stood next to another, both wearing a green jacket.
“I felt like Adam Scott when I was putting that,” Leo said with a grin.
All of the 88 participants reached Augusta through local and regional qualifying. The day’s competition started at the Tournament Practice Range, where the golfers hit two drives and two chips. From there, players moved to the practice putting green for two putts, then had one final putt on the 18th.
The championship began as an effort to grow the game, with the Masters Tournament Foundation joining with the U.S. Golf Association and the PGA of America to start the competition.
The eight winners came from four age groups – 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 – for both boys and girls. Points were given on a scale of 1 to 11, with the first-place finisher getting 11 points. The three scores were combined to get an overall winner. A golfer could also win a trophy for taking first in one of the events.
Natalie Pietromonaco of Auburn, Calif., won the girls 12-13 chip championship and the overall title. The eighth-grader started playing about 10 years ago, after her father encouraged her to play through an incentive system.
“It started out with Starburst,” said Natalie, 13. “I started eating Starburst, and then I started actually playing after a few years. I was on the course and my dad would give me a Starburst for every hole that I played.”
Throughout Sunday, the young golfers crossed paths with Masters champions. Bubba Watson, the 2012 winner, walked down the assembled line of the 12-13 boys group and gave handshakes and pats on the back after the boys finished chipping.
“These kids are remarkable, truly remarkable,” said Billy Payne, the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters.
Fred Couples and Larry Mize, both Masters winners, shared the practice putting green with the 12-13 girls.
Patrons also lined up to watch the action, some near the 18th green as the 88 participants tried to close with a Scott-like putt. A few thrived in the high-pressure spot while anxious mothers held cameras with shaky hands and covered their faces, sometimes sneaking in peeks through fingers.
Two of the eight overall winners sank the putt on No. 18 to get another story to share when they return home.
“I would describe it as an amazing experience,” said Patrick Welch, 14, the boys 14-15 winner from Providence, R.I. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to come to Augusta. I can’t wait to tell them.”