Sean Haselton of Sayville has come a long way since he took up golf at the age of 8. He gave up hockey, soccer and lacrosse and this past year, at 12, he played for the Sayville High varsity as a seventh grader. That was quite a climb. It just was nothing like the one he will take in April.
At Eisenhower Park on Monday, Haselton drove, chipped and putted his way to Augusta.
"It's going to be a lot of fun for me, just to see the course. I've always seen it on TV," said the golfer who won the Boys 12-13 division of the regional Drive, Chip and Putt competition, earning a trip to compete in the finals next April on the eve, and the site, of the Masters.
Drive, Chip and Putt is meant to inspire just that kind of enthusiasm in young people at a time when golf's demographics are skewing older and smaller in numbers. The Masters teamed with the PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association to organize an event modeled after the NFL's Punt, Pass and Kick competition. As admirable as the idea of a skills competition is on its own, the aspect that really makes it work is the carrot of a trip to Augusta. The finals will conclude with the putting phase on the famed 18th green.
So the driving, chipping and putting were spirited at Eisenhower Red on Monday, among 150 young golfers who knew they had a chance to experience the same thrill that PGA Tour golfers do when they win a tournament: Among the first thoughts is, "I'm going to the Masters!"
"It was terrific to see all the kids there, from all the different backgrounds. I think this was everything that the club envisioned," said Tony Sessa, head pro at Augusta National, who was at Eisenhower Park Monday, not as a representative of the club but as a golf dad. His daughter Mia, 9, moved up in class and competed in the Girls 10-11 category. She did fine, finishing fifth out of 20, said her dad, who spends the summer as head pro at East Hampton Golf Club.
"What is interesting is that my daughter was on the fence with golf. But with this, she has been saying, 'Can we go out and practice and play?' It definitely has piqued kids' interest," Sessa said.
For Sessa, Exhibit A was the family he met from Bobcaygeon, Ontario. Nyah Kelly, 9, made a 20-hour round trip to the course in East Meadow and won the Girls 7-9 class. She will be making an even grander trip in April.
"I'm ecstatic," she said on her mom's cellphone on the way home. "It feels really good because all my friends love golf and now I get to see it in real life."
Because her mom, Shana, is a Canadian PGA club pro, Nyah has been playing golf since she was 2 and watches it on TV a lot. She knows there is no place like the land of green jackets. "It's awesome," she said.
Shana, a golf lifer, added, "This is just surreal."
Haselton said he prepared by playing a lot at the West Sayville Golf Course. He met his challenge, and created a new one. On Tuesday, his mom, Eileen, was trying to find a place in Augusta for a family of six. It was an honor, she said: "We're a golf family."
The Southampton Lions tournament will be Sept. 10 at Noyac Golf Club. Proceeds assist sight impaired people with guide dogs, large print books and videos. Call 631-283-3943 . . . School-Business Partnerships of Long Island will hold its fourth annual golf outing Oct. 2 at Stonebridge Golf Links & Country Club. Former Brookhaven Town Supervisor Mark Lesko is the honoree. Visit sbpligolf.com.