N.J. Player’s Route to Augusta, Mo., Runs Through Augusta, Ga. July 23, 2017 | Augusta, Mo. By Lisa D. Mickey

Megha Ganne putts on the 18th green at Augusta National during the 2017 DCP National Finals. (Sam Greenwood/Drive, Chip & Putt Championship)

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

After flight delays on Friday that landed Megha Ganne in the Show Me State around 2 a.m. Saturday, one would think she would have been slowly dragging herself to the first tee for her 8:15 a.m. practice round for the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

Instead, Ganne, who is playing in her first USGA championship, was all smiles before she headed out to explore Boone Valley Golf Club.

“I did not expect to qualify,” said Ganne, 13, of Holmdel, N.J. “This is amazing with the whole championship setup. I did not know this event would be this grand.”

It could be said that Ganne’s grand excursion this week to Augusta, Mo., came by way of Augusta, Ga. As a two-time competitor in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals, Ganne believes that her preparation for the national competition has led to important steps in her game development.

Her first trip to Augusta National Golf Club for the DCP Finals, which take place on the Sunday before the Masters Tournament came in 2015, and it was a nerve-racking experience. She qualified again in April 2017 for the golf skills challenge, which requires players to make three drives, three chips and three putts for points. Those who compile the top scores are crowned champions in four age divisions for both girls and boys.

“When I went to Augusta in 2015, it was my first time ever playing in front of people and cameras,” Ganne said. “That first year was totally mind-blowing, but this year, I got used to it and I knew everyone at home was watching it on the Golf Channel. Once you do that, you can play in anything.”

Ganne took up golf at age 7 and began competing within a year. Her interest in the game was sparked by her participation in the USGA-LPGA Girls Golf program and The First Tee program in Essex County, N.J. While she realized that learning the fundamentals of golf was important, the key for Ganne was not simply hammering away at the game’s technical aspects.

“They taught me how to have fun with golf, and once I started having fun, I never wanted to stop,” said Ganne, who plays out of Colts Neck Golf Club in Monmouth County, N.J.

Both Megha and her sister, Sirina, 9, participate in The First Tee of Essex County at Weequahic Golf Course in Newark, where they are coached by Katie Brenny.  

“Megha and Sirina are doing something very special,” Brenny told the New Jersey State Golf Association. “What surprises me the most for kids their age is their self-driven discipline to put in what it takes to get the results they are seeing. Their motto is as long as they are having fun they should continue.”

Megha found that she was even more motivated when her sister got involved with Drive, Chip & Putt. Sirina, who did not make the trip to Missouri this week, also qualified for the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals last April at Augusta National.

“When I was 11 at the Drive, Chip & Putt Finals, I was really nervous, but Sirina walked in there this year like she’s done it a million times,” said the big sister. “She was just calm throughout everything and went about it like she knew what she was doing. I watched her and felt like if she could do it, so could I.”

In this year’s National Finals, Megha tied for second among girls ages 12-13, while Sirina finished ninth in her debut at the event. Both girls left with intangibles that can only be found at a place like Augusta National on the weekend prior to the Masters.

“I thought that playing there for the second time would be like, ‘OK, I’ve been here already,’ but it was more like, ‘Oh my God, it’s even better than the first time!’” said Ganne.

Megha Ganne receives her 2017 second-place trophy from 2008 Masters champion Trevor Immelman. (Chris Trotman/Drive, Chip & Putt Championship)

“I can’t describe what it’s like and how it just gets better with all the people you meet from the PGA [of America], the USGA, the players there to compete in the Masters, and even walking the golf course that most people only get to see on TV,” she added.

Ganne had a memorable exchange with 2014 U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer. By chance, she met the German on a flight heading to Augusta National and the two chatted about their respective upcoming events – the DCP Finals, and the Masters.

“He asked me what time my tee time was, but when he actually showed up to watch me, it was amazing,” said Ganne. “I mean, he was going to be playing in the Masters in a few days and he dropped by to see me!”

“That made me feel so special and important and I had never felt like that before,” added Ganne. “It made me believe in myself. I learned that I can really perform under pressure now because of those experiences I had.”

While Drive, Chip & Putt features only three components of the game, Ganne believes the competitive format has benefited her ability to singularly focus on each of the many shots required during a round of golf.

“During a round, you have time to recover if you make a mistake, but Drive, Chip & Putt makes you really focus on that one shot you’re facing, kind of like it’s your only chance,” said Ganne, who shot 74 at Lake Shore Yacht & Country Club in Cicero, N.Y., on July 6 to qualify for this championship. “Once you get into that mindset, it definitely helps to keep your focus.”

Looking ahead, Ganne dreams of playing four years of NCAA Division I college golf. She also hopes to someday play on the LPGA Tour.

Last week’s U.S. Women’s Open Championship in her home state had her glued to the TV, watching her favorite player, Lydia Ko, as well as amateur Hye-Jin Choi, who finished solo second in the major championship.

“That amateur was just amazing and she inspired me a lot,” said Ganne, who also qualified for the U.S. Women’s Amateur in two weeks at San Diego Country Club in Chula Vista, Calif.

Ganne is also inspired by LPGA rookie Aditi Ashok of India, and she has observed the impact that one player can make in a game for a nation that has not traditionally embraced golf.

“Her play has opened up so many golf opportunities in India,” added Ganne. “I’m seeing more young players from India coming here now and that’s happening because Aditi Ashok and others have played well on an international level.”

Ganne believes what she has learned from her experiences in the DCP National Finals could help her this week at Boone Valley, where her goal is to advance into match play.

Ganne knows that competing this week with the world’s top girls is another important step on the path of her burgeoning golf career.

“It’s great that I’m here among them, but this week is a good opportunity for me to learn from other people and see what makes them so good,” she added. “Hopefully I can pick up a few things from them that will help me get even better.”

Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.