Just about every golfer has had this experience: Lining up a putt on the living-room carpet and dreaming of making that same stroke, under pressure, on the 18th green at Augusta National Golf Club. Sean Haselton, 13, of Sayville is like everyone else in that regard. Unlike most everyone else, though, he will not have to settle for just a dream.
Haselton and his family will load up the car Friday morning and head to Georgia for the national final of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt competition Sunday. The climax will be held on Augusta's 18th green, where thousands of golfers have stood -- at least in their imaginations and their living rooms.
"It's going to be great, just seeing the course, probably the nicest course in the world," the eighth-grader said, mindful that he will be a part of Masters week.
The Masters always represents the symbolic start of the golf season. It is not a minute too soon this year for Long Islanders, after a brutal winter. The weather has been a special challenge for Haselton, who has spent weekends in the heated range stalls at Heartland Golf Park in Deer Park.
"I've been practicing my drives, trying to hit into a small area," he said, alluding to the accuracy component of the competition. As for the chipping and putting, he added, "It's kind of tough to practice that. I've been practicing on my rug and stuff."
But he had a good rehearsal at Pine Hills Country Club in Manorville last week with his teacher, head pro Jimmi Conway. "I think I've practiced enough. I'm ready for this event," Haselton said.
Conway said Haselton has a natural feel for all kinds of shots, with a calm "see it and hit it" approach. "I told him, 'There are people who are 70 years old who have put their names in a lottery for 30 or 40 years just to get inside those gates. So I want you to really relish this moment,' " the pro said.
Relishing will come after months of preparing, which began after he won his age group at the regional in Eisenhower Park last summer. Really, he and his family have been preparing for years.
His father, Dan, said they annually visited his parents' home on a Florida golf course. For something to do, they gave the children plastic golf clubs. Older Brendan, now 15, showed both skill and an appetite for the game. So, back home, he took lessons at West Sayville Golf Course. His older sister, Shannon, was sent to keep an eye on him and she became an aficionado, too.
Sean, whose first love was hockey, said, "I'd always go to the range, and I thought it was good and I got interested."
Now, Shannon is a senior at Sayville High, headed for Hofstra on a golf scholarship. Brendan is a sophomore who has been on the varsity since he was an eighth-grader. Sean already has played two seasons of varsity golf. And their brother Brian, a second-grader, is as excited about golf as any of them.
That is exactly the kind of scenario the Masters, the PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association are trying to foster in jointly sponsoring the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. Holding the final at Augusta, the day before practice starts for the year's first major, is seen as a master stroke.
For the Haseltons, it also necessitated a trip to the new PGA Tour store in Westbury. "Sean's shoes usually are Brendan's hand-me-downs," said their mother, Eileen. "But I'm not going to send him to Augusta in hand-me-downs."
Yes, the contest will carry pressure. It will be televised on Golf Channel. Conway said, "As Sean told me, 'I've already won, just by getting there.' "
The 30th Annual St. Jude's Golf Outing, benefiting the Outreach program at the Mastic Beach parish, will be at Rock Hill Country Club, Manorville, on May 7. Call 631-921-6793 . . . The Civil Air Patrol Long Island Group, an all-volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, will hold its outing June 12 at Timber Point Golf Course, Great River. Visit www.cap-liss.org.