Nine-year-old Edward Stephens Jr. is one of five USGA Members who will compete in the national finals of the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 6. Read his story here, and then click below to read about Sean Haselton and Lucy Li, fellow Members who will also be competing. Live coverage of Drive, Chip and Putt begins at 8 am Eastern Time on Golf Channel, and can also be viewed at www.DriveChipandPutt.com.
With visions of azaleas, Amen Corner and Magnolia Lane dancing in his head, his body had other ideas. On the eve of the 2013 Masters Tournament, Stephens and his father, Dudley, were all set to make the trek east on Interstate 20 from Atlanta to Augusta National Golf Club when a nasty virus confined the 9-year-old to bed.
“I was not happy that I didn’t get to go,” said Stephens, who ceded the precious practice-round ticket to his younger brother.
The disappointment was forgotten a few months later when the Georgia native earned a trip to Augusta National for the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship finals. The competition, which is conducted by the USGA, Augusta National and The PGA of America, will bring together 88 youths ages 7 to 15 for a unique event on the Sunday prior to the Masters that will culminate on Augusta’s 18th green.
Stephens, one of five USGA Members to advance from 11 regional qualifiers, will compete in the Boys 7-9 division.
Stephens clinched his qualifier by holing a downhill, left-to-right 30-foot putt to total 115 points, 24 ahead of his closest competitor.
A third-grader at The Lovett School in Atlanta, Stephens has been playing golf since he could hold a club. He has competed in numerous age-group U.S. Kids regional events along with the Future Masters in Dothan, Ala., and the Bob Burns Tournament in Selma, Ala.
Stephens advanced out of local DCP qualifying in Albany, Ga., and won the regional event at the Atlanta Athletic Club in Johns Creek, Ga., site of this year’s U.S. Amateur Championship.
Stephens travels once or twice a month to Sea Island, Ga. – a 4½-hour drive from Atlanta – to work with his coaches, including Jared Zak (full swing), Mike Shannon (putting), Dr. Morris Pickens (mental game) and Randy Myers (fitness).
“I usually do my homework in the car,” said Stephens.
Not only will Stephens get to compete on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National, he will also get to take in Monday’s practice round for the Masters. Although he has attended the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club several times and owns a hat with approximately 50 player autographs, he has never seen Amen Corner.
Stephens, who plays out of the Piedmont Driving Club, is also hoping to see players skip the ball across the water, a practice-round tradition on the par-3 16th hole.
Although the weather in Atlanta has been unseasonably harsh – two snowstorms pelted the region in February – Stephens has managed to find practice time. At the regional final, his winning drive measured 174 yards, but he would like to improve on both his distance and accuracy off the tee.
“Putting is my best [skill],” said Stephens. “I think I need to work on my driver a lot.”
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.