Golf

These Myrtle Beach juniors are one step from earning a trip to Augusta National Golf Club

Grand Strand residents Madison Messimer and Gavin Hutchinson are each one step away from competing at Augusta National Golf Club next April.

They have advanced through two rounds and reached the regional finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt competition, which concludes the Sunday before the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National.

Messimer, 12, won the local qualifier on July 9 at Legends Golf Resort in the Girls Age 12-13 division then finished second in the Subregional qualifier Aug. 24 at Fort Jackson Golf Club in Columbia. Hutchinson, 11, finished third at Legends in the Boys Age 12-13 division and second in the subregional.

The top three advance from local qualifying and top two move on at subregionals. The competition is the aggregate score of three drives, three chips and three putts.

There are 10 regional sites, and the duo’s regional is Sept. 28 at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Only regional winners in each division advance to the finals, and age divisions are based on what age a competitor will be at the finals next April.

Messimer has been in this position before. She has now advanced through local qualifying four times and this will be her second regional. A couple years ago, she was one putt away from advancing to Augusta but left it short and dropped from first to fourth.

“It’s one of my biggest goals,” she said of reaching the finals.

In her age group this summer, Messimer has won the South Carolina Junior Golf Association’s Blade Junior Championship in Greenville, U.S. Kids Golf Ozarks Open in Missouri and Red, White & Blue Invitational in Pinehurst, N.C., and finished 14th out of 124 competitors in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, where she shot a final-round 4-under 68 to finish at 7-over 223.

She was once again named to the PGA Junior League Myrtle Beach All-Star team and traveled for events in the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour.

At TPC Sawgrass, Messimer will be able to play a round at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, which hosts The Players Championship on the PGA Tour, for $65 with a caddie. “I’m really excited to go play because I’ve seen the course on TV, and it looks really nice, especially the 17th hole, the par-3 with an island green,” she said.

Both Messimer and Hutchinson, 11, the youngest son of Indigo Creek Golf Club partner Chuck Hutchinson, compete in the South Carolina Junior Golf Association Hootie & the Blowfish Chapter Series, which is a series of summer tournaments.

Hutchinson has been playing in the Hootie series, which is for players ages 7-17, since he was 7. He represented the local chapter and placed second in his age group in the 2017 Tommy Cuthbert All-Stars tournament, and also finished third in his age group in the 2018 George Holliday Memorial Junior at Myrtle Beach National Golf Club.

Hootie series growing

This year, Hootie series Myrtle Beach Chapter director Dale Ketola of the Grande Dunes Golf Performance Center said seven local events were held including the chapter championship at TPC Myrtle Beach, from which two players in each age group qualified for the state championship at Seabrook Island.

Ketola said he had 80 members this summer in the program, which is about the same as last year but about 20 more than 2016, when he took over the local chapter and consolidated a pair of chapters on the Grand Strand.

“We’re happy with the numbers, though you always want to have more,” Ketola said.

He also coaches one of about six PGA Junior League Golf teams in the area comprised of kids ages 7-12, and believes that program is becoming a feeder for the Hootie series, which is for ages 7-17.

Some juniors do both because events are scheduled on different days, and they move to the Hootie series after being too old for the PGA league, which has a team concept.

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