When the leading authorities in American golf proposed the Drive, Chip & Putt program, they envisioned stories just like that of James Bradley, 12, of East Hampton: Fell in love with golf at summer camp, played at the most public of courses, Poxabogue and Montauk Downs, worked his way up to competing at the most exclusive of venues, Augusta National Golf Club.
Bradley is a finalist in the nationally televised event Sunday on the sport’s most hallowed ground, on the eve of the Masters. “Driving in and seeing Magnolia Lane, I’m really looking forward to that, and just competing. I can’t wait,” he said last week before heading south with his parents, sister and instructor Kevin Smith, pro at Montauk Downs.
Drive, Chip & Putt is a collaboration among Augusta National, the PGA of America and the U.S. Golf Association. It was designed to inspire young people to become interested in golf, although in practice, it has mostly drawn kids who already were competing at a high level, many of them from private clubs. Bradley’s journey is more what everyone had in mind. He chose golf four years ago as his activity while attending camp at the Ross School in East Hampton.
“I didn’t fall in love with it completely and start getting serious about it until the next year, maybe year and a half. That’s where it really jump-started,” he said. “No one is helping you, no one is holding you back. You create your own shots and just have fun with it.”
He played regularly at Poxabogue, the par-3 nine-hole course in Bridgehampton, then begged his dad, Scott, to drive him to Montauk, a full-length, championship-caliber layout, where he met Smith.
Now, the seventh grader shoots in the 70s. He played last fall on the East Hampton High School varsity team. Drive, Chip & Putt became a motivator, before and after he got through regional qualifying last fall at Winged Foot. He has seen highlights of previous national finals, featuring green-jacketed former Masters champions as awards presenters. “To be honest, I watch them almost every day, just to see what it’s like,” he said.
Unlike some of the other competitors, his training involved bundling up and playing in cold weather. Bradley said he has been throttling back in his preparation but his mom, Gina, said, “He’s downplaying his practice. He’s literally playing every day of the week. We have to hold him back.”
In any case, he is in golf to stay and is aiming high, saying, “I want to win at Augusta.” And he wasn’t talking about just this week.