Athlete of the Week is Friends Academy's Ava Estrella
Ava Estrella, both a golfer and golf fan, figures to be locked into the final round of The Masters Sunday afternoon. The Friends Academy freshman usually is. She loves watching the sport on TV and Masters Sunday is at the top of golf's special days.
This year, Estrella will have a unique perspective on the proceedings. When things are happening late in the afternoon on the 18th green at Augusta, she’ll know what it’s like to read a putt there, in April, in the most prestigious corner of the golf world.
She’s been there before — last weekend to be exact.
Estrella tied for eighth in the girls 14-15 age group in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, held last Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of The Masters. While the driving and chipping competitions were held at the club’s driving range and practice green, the putting competition brought Estrella to the 18th green, right in the middle of everything.
“Everything at Augusta was amazing,” said Estrella, who is Newsday’s Athlete of the Week. “Having the opportunity to play was the chance of a lifetime.”
Players were awarded points based on their performance relative the other competitors. For example, the player to leave both a 15-foot and 30-foot putt closest to the hole would receive 10 points, with point values descending based on place.
Putting was Estrella’s strongest skill. Both her putts left within two feet of the hole. Her putting prowess earned her six points. As she rode down Magnolia Lane, she figured she’d be greeted with ice rink-like greens. Not the case, she said. Not at all.
“They were much slower than expected,” Estrella said. “At home, I practice on much faster greens, and I thought it was going to be about that speed. Everyone that I know said the greens were really fast and it was like an ice-skating rink, but that wasn’t the case.”
There are much faster greens on Long Island, she said.
“Old Westbury (Golf and Country Club) is definitely much faster than Augusta,” said Estrella of the club of which her family are members.
Estrella had to move through a three-pronged qualifier to head down to Georgia as the Northeast representative in her age group. She won at Harbor Links Golf Course in Port Washington in a local qualifier last July, placed second at Bethpage in a sub-regional qualifier last August, and won the regional qualifier at TPC Boston last September.
Estrella said she wasn’t nervous as she lined up her putts at Augusta. Part of that, no doubt, was her older brother Jack, a junior at Friends Academy, standing next to her as her caddy.
“It was the best,” she said. “I always play with him, so it felt the same to me. I love having him around . . . I was pretty calm because I realized that being nervous doesn’t help me at all.”
The Monday after the finals, Estrella and her family were back at Augusta, watching a Masters practice round. She looked on, knowingly, as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy made their way around familiar grounds. She also got to chat with Harris English.
“I talked about the experience and being there,” she said. “He’s one of the only ones who stopped his practice and took his time to talk to me. I’m rooting for him at the Masters.”