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Of the three Drive, Chip and Putt categories, Ella June Hannant, an 8-year-old from Pikeville, considers herself most accomplished as a putter.
The putting segment was the last to be contested for the 10 regional champions who were Ages 7-9 contestants in Sunday’s fifth annual Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.
The next-to-last to putt, Hannant, the regional queen from Pinehurst, stepped confidently onto the hallowed No. 18 green, the final layout for the incomparable Masters, and putted her way to the Drive, Chip and Putt national championship in her debut on Easter Sunday.
Ella, earlier in the week, predicted she would return to Wayne County as the national champion in her age group and did so by amassing 25 of a possible 30 points for a three-point triumph.
In each category, points were awarded on the basis of 10 points for first place, 9 for second, 8 for third, etc.
Ella opened her championship bid by notching nine points as the runner-up with a drive of 166 yards for the 4-foot-5, 66-pound lass. The only performance below her expectations occurred on her second chip, resulting in a fifth-place showing and six points.
Well aware of the standings, Ella dominated the putting and accumulated the maximum 10 points.
“I knew I had to get the putts close and make the 15-footer,” Ella said of her putting assignment. “I was confident. I knew I’ve had putts like that so many times.”
Ella rolled the 30-foot first putt within two feet of the cup and left the 15-footer about a foot to the right of the hole. Both were “gimmes” for everyday amateurs.
As much as Ella desired to sink the 15-footer, she was careful to keep the golf ball to the right of the hole. She had seen several putts directly at the cup sail three feet past and farther. The result would be dashed title hopes.
Steven Hannant considers his daughter blessed as a putter.
“Putting is what separated her from the other kids,” he declared. “She knows how to read greens and knows about the speed of greens.”
Asterisk Talley of Chowchilla, California, finished second with 22 points, taking second in both the chipping and putting categories.
Jensin Krampel of Naples, Florida, the last to putt, wound up third with 21 points. She emerged the top chipper but scored but six points in putting. She needed to claim first to be proclaimed the national champion.
Fourth was Lily Zhang of Buffalo, New York with 18 points. Zhang struggled after belting the longest drive of 167 yards and the first-round leader.
Ella stood second after the first segment and was tied with Krampel for the lead with only the putting competition remaining.
“My first chip was really good,” Ella reviewed, “but I hit the second one out to the right. I would have liked to have been leading, but I knew I was in good position to win. It’s really cool knowing I beat all the other kids.”
BACK TO REAL WORLD
Family members were relieved but not surprised.
“We are just now getting back to the real world,” her father remarked in a telephone conversation Wednesday afternoon. “I am thrilled but I feel like she deserved it. Everything happened kind of like what we wanted. God’s luck was on her side, but she was most confident about her putting.”
“Incredible!” expressed her mother, Regan. “But if anyone deserved it, she did. She has worked extremely hard. She always seems to rise to the occasion; she does her best then. It worked out perfectly.”
Ella was motivated by a “Go, win” message from PGA legend Jack Nicklaus and another highlight of an unforgettable weekend was exchanging pleasantries with former LPGA great Annika Sorenstam.
The championship is a joint endeavor of the Masters, PGA of America, the United States Golf Association and Drive, Chip and Putt — and is free to boys and girls ages 5-17.
This year’s event began with 268 local qualifiers, followed by 53 subregionals and 10 regionals throughout the 50 states.
Regan Hannant emphasized the youngsters and their families were treated to an “amazing weekend.”
The championships in eight divisions — four girls and four boys — were followed by a pizza and ice cream social Sunday evening. Ella and her family enjoyed the opportunity to be spectators for Monday’s practice round for the Masters, which begins Thursday.
“It was really awesome to be on one of the greatest courses of all time,” Ella clamored. “Everything is green and the course has super-fast greens.”
The family returned home Tuesday and Ella was interviewed by ABC-TV on Wednesday afternoon for a clip that will be aired Thursday evening.
Ella giggled and admitted she liked her outfit, which included an evergreen hat and shirt, much better after winning the championship.
She believes her success will motivate her sisters, Karsyn and Jada, to reach the same destination.
Careful to thank her coach, Clarence Rose; her grandfather, Phil Hannant; and the Lane Tree Golf Club golfers, Ella is already looking ahead to 2019 and plans to play her local qualifier at The Legends Resort (South Carolina), another famed venue.
She intends to prepare by improving her chipping, hitting longer drives and honing enviable putting skills.
Ella’s goal is not only to win all three categories in her final Ages 7-9 opportunity but become the championship’s first back-to-back champion.
She treasures the resulting adulation and attention and assured; “It’s a really great experience — a fun experience.”