Drive, Chip and Putt Competition Provided Rheagan Hall Special Masters Memories

  • Saturday, April 1, 2023
  • Paul Payne

It’s been nine years since Rheagan Hall last walked the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club. Her return this weekend to the home of the Masters tournament will surely bring back some special memories of her last visit.

As a confident 14-year old golf phenom, Hall was a participant in the initial Drive, Chip and Putt competition in 2014 on the Sunday leading into Masters week. The Cleveland native didn’t recognize the significance at the time, but she has gained a measure of appreciation for her accomplishment as the years roll past.

This time, though, Hall will be attending as a patron along with her parents, Mack and Karen Hall.

“Master’s week is special for any golf fan,” Hall said. “We were fortunate to get tickets for Drive, Chip and Putt. There’s no day more special for me and so it will be my first time back since I competed. I’m excited to see these kids enjoy a day they’ll remember for the rest of their lives. It’s amazing to see what doors the Lord opened for me through my own experiences.”

Drive, Chip and Putt was founded in 2013 as a joint initiative between the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association and the PGA of America to provide girls and boys ages 7 to 15 an opportunity to participate in junior golf development skills competitions. Participants across the country advance in four separate age divisions through three rounds of qualifying with the finalists earning a chance to compete at Augusta National the following spring.

Local qualifying will take place on June 16 at the UTC Player Development Facility located at 2452 Hickory Valley Road. Registration is limited to 140 participants, and 83 slots have been filled according to Lamar Mills, Chattanooga Regional Director for the Tennessee Golf Foundation and Tennessee Section PGA President. Those interested can go to www.drivechipandputt.com to find more information and complete registration until the deadline on June 11.

The winners of the local event will advance to a sub-regional qualifier hosted by Cleveland Country Club on July 30. The regional qualifier that carries a ticket to Augusta will be held at The Golf Club of Tennessee in Kingston Springs on September 24. It is the first time participants can advance to the finals without leaving the state of Tennessee.

“It’s really awesome to see how this event has grown and the talent level has progressed over the last 10 years, even at the local level,” Mills said. “Just two years ago we had a local qualifier from Georgia come through that advanced to win the 9–10-year-old division at Augusta. That’s just really cool to see.”

Hall remains the only area resident to make it to the finals, and Mills had a connection to her advancement as the long-time director of golf at her home course, Cleveland Country Club.

“Our club was super excited for Rheagan,” Mills said. “We even bought her a golf bag with her name and the club’s logo on it so she would be sporting Cleveland Country Club at Augusta National. After watching her grow up playing, it was just neat to see her achieve that milestone at a young age. It was definitely a proud moment for our members.”

Hall played collegiately at UTC and now works at Baylor School as assistant to the athletic director and assistant women’s golf coach. She found out about Drive, Chip and Putt after her father registered her during the event’s initial year.

“With him being the golf fanatic that he is, he thought ‘What better idea than trying to get my kids to Augusta?’ So, he signed up me and my brother,” Hall said.

Hall won the first qualifier in Rome, Georgia, then earned top honors at the regional staged at the Atlanta Athletic Club in September 2013 to secure her spot in Augusta the following spring as one of 11 finalists in her age group.

Karen Hall spent the time leading up to the finals preparing a special keepsake to commemorate her daughter’s achievement. She compiled a scrapbook of congratulatory notes from family, friends and celebrities to encourage Rheagan as she departed for Augusta.

“My mom is incredible. She somehow got the addresses of all these famous people and had them write me notes of encouragement,” Hall said. “It starts with family, friends and people at my church. Then I flip a page, and it’s Jack (Nicklaus), Arnie (Palmer) and Gary Player. I couldn’t believe it. Then it’s Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal), LeBron James, the people from Duck Dynasty, Donald Trump, Pat Summit. That was so special to know I had all those people supporting me, and it’s something that I look at often.”

Unfazed by the magnitude of being among the first women to compete at Augusta National, Hall’s perspective changed when she arrived at the club Sunday morning for the competition.

“Before then it just seemed like I was getting ready for another day of golf,” Hall said. “They drove us down Magnolia Lane, and when the door opened Lou Holtz was there in his green jacket saying ‘Welcome to the Masters.’ That’s when I knew this was something special.”

The driving and chipping portion of the event was staged at the practice area, where Bubba Watson stopped by to greet Hall and her fellow competitors. The putting phase took place with two putts scored on the practice green, and the final putt on the fabled 18th green.

Hall was tied for the lead as she made the short stroll to the closing hole for her final stroke. She felt her competitive juices kick in as she was one putt away from victory.

“As we’re walking to 18, Condoleezza Rice shakes my hand,” Hall said. “Then there’s a huge Jumbotron on the other side of the green that you cannot miss. It has my picture and says I was currently tied for first. In my mind, we’re going to do this and win. But I’m so amped up that I blow my putt by the hole. The pin was front left, and it was the same putt Adam Scott had the year before for the win. I was devastated.”

After finishing with the fourth highest score, Hall and her father sought a quiet place to process her disappointment. They wound up in a place few outsiders get to experience – the members’ private dining room.

“We were the only people in there not wearing a green jacket,” Hall said. “They could see I was upset and they were kind enough to let me and my dad talk through what just happened.”

Once she composed herself, Hall was able to enjoy her remaining time at the Masters including a visit from Player.

“There were some pros practicing, and Mr. Player came over and congratulated me,” Hall said. “That was super special.”

Much has changed in Hall’s life since her last visit to Augusta National. She will watch the Drive, Chip and Putt competition from outside the ropes this time, but the memories will surely return of her own experiences nine years ago.

“Looking back now, who cares that I ran the putt by the hole,” Hall said. “I was there. I was one of the girls getting to help establish Drive, Chip and Putt. Back then, 14-year-old Rheagan did not understand the importance. It’s a wonderful thing they’re doing for the game of golf, and it’s created lifetime friendships and memories we’ll always share.”

* * *

Paul Payne can be emailed at paulpayne6249@gmail.com


Sports
Chattanooga Red Wolves Shutout 4-0 At South Georgia Tormenta
  • 5/18/2024

The Chattanooga Red Wolves SC played their first road game since April 13th against South Georgia Tormenta in Statesboro. Injury-riddled Chattanooga would go into the match without leading scorer ... more

Pickens Tosses Gem As #3 Lady Vols Shut Down Dayton
  • 5/18/2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Sophomore Karlyn Pickens pitched a gem against Dayton in Tennessee's opening game of the 2024 Knoxville Regional, shutting out the Flyers 3-0 at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium. ... more

Lee Baseball Falls To Top Ranked Tampa In NCAA Regional
  • 5/18/2024

The University of Tampa displayed why it is the No. 1 team in NCAA DII baseball by handing Lee a sound 13-1 defeat on Friday afternoon in South Regional play. The Spartans rode the four-hit pitching ... more