AUGUSTA, Ga. — Each year the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals showcases some of the best 7- to 15-year-old golfers from across the United States and Canada. As they rip driver down the range at Augusta National, chip on the practice green and putt on the 18th green, it’s hard to watch and not wonder what type of practice it took for them to get to this moment. These kids are dialed in. Seven competitors shared their favorite drills and practice habits after walking the hallowed grounds of Augusta on Sunday. Though most like the long game better than short game, there’s a lot to learn from how diligently they work on their putting.
Ellen Yu , 11, High Point, N.C.
The fifth grader likes to spend time practicing her putting speed. Yu starts with a 10-footer and tries to get the ball to stop within two feet of the cup. Then she keeps moving back, 15 feet, 20, 25, 30. The farther she gets from the hole, the bigger she allows for error. For example, the 15- and 20-footers should end up around three feet from the cup.
One more speed tip from Yu: “If you’re playing a tournament, find out the speed of the greens on the course you’re competing on before you play.”
McKenzie Mueller, 9, Wake Forest, N.C.
Mueller practices with her older brother, Luke, and twin brother, Alex, and they like having putting contests. They choose a long putt and put a ball close to where the correct line is. So, if you don’t hit the putt on the correct line, you’d hit the ball. If you do hit the ball, you get a penalty.
Patmon Malcom, 11, Alpharetta, Ga.
Malcom uses what he calls “The 16 Drill” on the putting green. He sets four balls up at four points around the cup, like a compass. “I start at two feet out, and have to make 13 of 16 before I move back,” says Malcom.
As he moves back, the number of putts he has to make before he can move on gets fewer. Up to eight feet, it’s still 13 of 16. Once he’s out at 15 feet, he has to make 5 of 16. Once the putts get really long, in the 25-30 foot range, he has to be able to make two-putts from all 16.
“It’s about repetition,” he says. “You get so comfortable, and the drill prevents three-putts.”
Matthew Vital, 13, Bethlehem, Pa.
“Hitting driver is the best. I have driving contests with my friends,” says Vital, who won the boys 12-13 division on Sunday. (Driving contests can be accuracy-based, or distance-centric.) If they play for something, it’s usually a soda in the clubhouse. “It’s good for your mindset,” explains Vital of the contests. “It makes you focus more, it’s like a tournament.”
Alexis Vakasiuola, 11, San Tan Valley, Ariz.
“I have these plastic circles I put on the green,” says Vakasuiola. “I hit putts and try to have them stop in the circle.”
Why putt to a three-foot circle? “Everyone can make a three-foot putt,” says Vakasuoila.
Sahish Reddy, 11, Duluth, Ga.
“I like hitting balls more than anything,” says Reddy, who was the winner of the Boys 10-11 division. But he does appreciate the importance of practicing short game. “I hit a lot of left-handed putts, long ones from like 30-40 feet,” he says. “I hit 20-30 per day. I’m right handed, so I want to make sure my left hand is equally strong.”
Alexandra Phung, 7, New York City, N.Y.
Phung says she likes to practice with her siblings. They family’s short-game practice sessions often include putting a hoop out, and having their chips land in the hoop. “The most fun part of playing games when I’m practicing is when I win,” says Phung. As for why she likes to play games instead of just going out and chipping around the practice green, “When I’m in a bad mood, it helps me cheer up.”