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Ella June invades Augusta National

Pikeville 8-year to compete in Drive, Putt & Chip Championship

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GOLDSBORO — Come Sunday morning, 8-year-old Ella June Hannant will be strutting the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, home of the famed Masters, wearing provided attire of an evergreen hat and shirt, a khaki skirt — no logos and her shoes.

“I like the color of it for the money, “ commented Ella June (she’s OK with Ella) with a grin, “but if I was playing in a big tournament, I don’t think I would wear it.”

How’s that for the mentality and mindset for a 4-foot-5, 66-pound lass that will be among 10 regional champions from across the country vying for the Girls Ages 7-9 Drive, Putt & Chip Championship?

The daughter of Steven and Regan Hannant of Pikeville enters Sunday morning’s competition at Augusta quietly but supremely confident.

Neither is she awed nor intimidated by the mention of Augusta or The Masters.

“I know it has very, very fast greens,” Ella said of the Augusta layout. “It’s a very nice golf course — and one of the greatest. I’m not nervous, but I am really excited to be there.”

The competition begins at 10:45 a.m. and will be televised by The Golf Channel.

NICKLAUS TELEPHONES

The Hannant family — which includes 12-year-old sister Karsyn, 6-year-old sister Jada — departed for Georgia on Friday morning. Ella saw Augusta for the first time later in the day and, en route, received a telephone call from her all-time favorite golf personality — Jack Nicklaus. Ella identified Nicklaus as the golfer “who won the Masters six times.”

Before heading to Georgia, Ella practiced a final time at Lane Tree Golf Club on Thursday and graciously took time out for a media interview, which she handled adorably.

Ella was attracted to Drive, Chip & Putt competition because of sister Karsyn’s participation. In her debut in 2017, Ella lost in the Southeast Regional Championship in Pinehurst.

But last fall and summer, she whisked through — as the champion — in the local qualifier at Mrytle Beach, South Carolina; the sub-regional or state final at Fort Jackson, South Carolina; and the regional championship at the practice facility of nationally recognized Pinehurst Country Club.

ELLA DOMINATED

Ella simply dominated the regional, amassing 22 points for her drive, 32 points for her chipping and 60 points for her putting. Her 114 total points outdistanced the runner-up by a whopping 44 points.

In the competition, contestants are provided three golf balls for each segment — driving, chipping and putting. Ella considers putting her strong point but belted her drives an average of 150 yards.

“She just taking off on it and loves it,” said Ella’s father. “We try to do everything we can to allow our kids to have a chance to realize their goals.”

Ella is coached by Walnut Creek Country Club head professional Clarence Rose, a tournament winner during his stay on the PGA Tour.

“Clarence has been a real blessing,” Steve Hannant declared.

The family lives on a Wayne County farm that Ella says: “Is kind of a golf course, I guess.” Her training there includes throwing a javelin and discus to strengthen her swing. She’s now slamming drives as far as 170 yards.

GOLFER SINCE AGE 4

Ella plays golf with Rose at Lane Tree and Walnut Creek. She has golfed at Lane Tree since age 4 and participates in the men’s league. Her father descibes Lane Tree members as “extremely kind.”

Because of a stream of golf commitments, Ella does actually attend school. She is currently being educated as a second-grader in the North Carolina Virtual Academy, an online charter school.

“Golf is definitely the biggest thing I do,” she admits.

Now, she’s ready for the next big stage.

“It’s definitely going to take winning two events and finishing second in the other,” Ella said. “But I would like to win all three. I don’t plan on finishing second in either one of them.”

Ella doesn’t deny that golf already consumers her young life. Nonetheless, she’s a busy young lady.

She’s already a Southeastern Regional champion in U.S. Kids Golf and is considered a top contender for the world title because she is currently overwhelming her competition and has defeated the reigning champion five of the last six times they have played against one another.

Ella is a championship javelin thrower in the North Carolina State Games championship and the James Blount East Coast Invitational and has won back-to-back Wilson Youth Triathalons. She’s involved in karate and tumbling and is accomplished when it comes to shooting pool.

Monday, in Ella’s schedule, does not include golf. But next Monday will be an exception because she intends to be in the gallery for the Masters practice round.

LIKES TIGER, SPIETH

Her current PGA heroes are Tiger Woods and Jordan Speith, and she likes to follow Lexi Thomas on the LPGA Tour. Ella started throwing the javelin after reading LPGA legend Babe Didrikson Zaharias was a javelin competitor.

She find times for her friends, but giggles and admits: “Unfortunately, they are two of the people I beat in the regional. But they are happy for me.” Sibling Karsyn, Wayne Christian’s most valuable girls golfer as a sixth grader, doesn’t deny she wishes she had reached her sister’s destination.

“But I am happy for her,” Karsyn added. “And I am really happy that she’s beating girls older than she. I’m just so glad it’s her doing it.”

However, Ella is focused on Sunday being the next step to the big time.

She’s not excited about the prospect of playing team golf at the high school and college level.

“Golf is about winning, getting to meet really cool people, going awesome places and having an appreciation for nature,” Ella remarked. “I want to be a pro golfer and I would rather get on the tour at an early age — 15 or 16.”

Folks, she’s not April Fooling.

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