GOLF: Park Rapids' Natalie Martin makes history at Augusta National
Natalie Martin, a Park Rapids 11-year-old, accomplished a rare feat by sinking both putts during the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals.
AUGUSTA, Ga. – Natalie Martin may not have fulfilled her goal of placing in the top 3 at the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals, but the Park Rapids 11-year-old can claim to be the nation’s best putter in her age division.
Martin became only the seventh golfer out of 80 annual qualifiers for both boys and girls in the nine-year history of the event to sink both attempts during the putting competition to cap off her second trip to Augusta National Golf Club on a high note on Sunday, March 2.
The Park Rapids fifth grader was the first competitor to putt and calmly sank both attempts from 30 feet and 15 feet away to finish first among the 10 competitors in the girls age 10-11 division. Taking first in the final event was good for 10 points as Martin placed seventh overall with 15 points after the completion of the three skills.
“I knew I couldn’t win (the overall title), so I was just trying to get my 30-footer close and make my 15-footer,” said Martin. “I’ve worked on my putting and I’ve improved. I couldn’t believe I made both. It feels really good. Not many have made both putts. I couldn’t stop crying. I was so happy.”
Martin began her second appearance at Augusta with the driving competition. Martin had drives of 156.40 yards and 150 yards to finish in 10th place for 1 point. Adelyn Rosado of Cary, N.C. had the best drive of 216.60 yards.
In the chipping competition, Martin landed her first chip 7 feet, 7 inches from the cup and her second chip 13 feet, 1 inch from the cup from 25 yards away for a total distance of 20 feet, 8 inches, good enough for seventh place and 4 points. Alexandra Phung of Forest Hills, N.Y. took first with distances of 2 feet, 6 inches and 2 feet for a total of 4 feet, 6 inches.
“My drives could have been better. I’ve been making swing changes and I’ve been struggling with my driver lately. My first chip didn’t roll as far as I wanted and I chunked my second chip,” said Martin. “I wanted to take top three, but that didn’t happen. I was really happy I finished by making both putts. It (competing last year) helped. There are so many people there. I expected the large crowd this year. It was still so nerve-wracking, but it was an amazing experience.”
Phung won the overall title with 22 points while Rosado and Hana McGarry of San Diego, Calif., tied for second with 20 points.
Started in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free nationwide junior golf development competition aimed at growing the game by focusing on the three fundamental skills employed in golf.
The Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals features 40 boys and 40 girls in the 7-9, 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15 age divisions. Each golfer competes in three skill challenges to earn points for the longest drive, closest chip to the pin and closet putt. The golfer with the longest drive, closest distance to the cup on two chips and closest distance to the cup on two putts scores 10 points with the golfer with the shortest drive and farthest distance from the cup on two chips and two putts earning 1 point.
Martin, who is the daughter of John and Rachael Martin, represented the Midwest Region after winning the girls 10-11 title during the regional qualifying round at Castle Pines Golf Club in Castle Rock, Colo., last September.
In her first appearance at the DCP National Finals last spring, Martin finished 10th with 14.5 points by placing fourth with a drive of 160.70 yards; seventh with a chipping distance of 20 feet, 7 inches; and tied for seventh with a putting distance of 8 feet, 5 inches. Kylie Chang of Cummings, Ga., was first with 18 points.
In addition to making both putts, some other highlights for Martin and her family in her second trip to Augusta were shaking hands and chatting with former United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meeting former LPGA player Nancy Lopez and former PGA player Peter Jacobsen, being presented an award from current PGA player Jordan Spieth, and watching Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy – among others – play a practice round on Monday in preparation for the Masters Tournament. All the DCP national qualifiers were also treated to a banquet and reception the night before the competition.
“We were all able to eat lunch at the Founders Room and the evening ended with a reception complete with bouncy houses, party food and cotton candy. You name it they had it. It was a mini carnival for all of the competitors and their families,” said Rachael Martin. “DCP treated the kids like royalty from the food and goody bags to being able to attend a practice round at the Masters on Monday. It was an absolutely amazing experience that Natalie will remember for the rest of her life. Thank you to our amazing community for all of their support, encouragement and cheering on Natalie.”
Martin will now prepare for a busy summer by competing in the Minnesota PGA Junior Tour before trying to qualify for the DCP National Finals again next fall. The Park Rapids 11-year-old is hoping all that competition will lead to even bigger accomplishments in the future.
“Next year I hope to qualify for Augusta again. It’s going to be a harder challenge since I have to step up (to the age 12-13 division). If I do make it, I’d like to try and finish in the top 5,” said Martin. “I’m hoping to play golf in college and make it to the LPGA. That would be fun if I’m fortunate enough to do it.”