TAMPA — Elyse Meerdink stood on the 18th green at Augusta National on Easter Sunday and nailed a 15-foot putt to win the Drive, Chip and Putt National Championship.
A gallery of folks (some famous) and television cameras followed her every move, which was broadcast live to a Golf Channel audience.
It would be a lot of pressure for anyone at any age, but it wasn’t anything overwhelming for the 12-year-old.
She was calculating the situation: It was her last of two putts for the event. Her first attempt from 30 feet went 8.5 feet past the hole. That meant — within the competition’s format against her nine opponents who already had finished their attempts — Meerdink’s final putt from 15 feet had to stop under 2 feet, 11 inches from the hole.
“It actually calmed me down to know how close I needed the putt to finish from the hole,” said Meerdink, a sixth grader at Carrollwood Day School, where she plays on the varsity golf team that finished 14th at last fall’s state tournament. “I just stepped up and told myself to make a good stroke.”
The ball rolled evenly off the putter’s face, curved left and fell into the hole.
Meerdink pumped her fist and said, “Yes!” She walked off the green for a hug from her mom and dad, and along the way got a hearty “congratulations” from former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
After three qualifying events — local, sub-regional and regional — held at hundreds of places across the country, featuring thousands of initial entrants, Meerdink was the national champion in the 10-11 age group.
It was the end of a journey that started in the summer of 2019 before the COVID-19 postponement of the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt finals at Augusta.
Meerdink said it was worth the wait, especially after taking her first-ever drive up Augusta National’s famed Magnolia Lane.
“I was in awe and I was taking it all in, looking around at everything,” said Meerdink, whose grandfather, Barry Meerdink, and great aunt, Sue Little, played on the PGA and LPGA tours, but never got a chance to compete at Augusta.
“Before I got (to Augusta National) I thought I would be more nervous. But once I was there, the place had such a calming feeling and I wasn’t that nervous.”
She felt a little better after nailing her first drive of the competition 226 yards safely into the 40-yard wide landing zone. Her second and final drive sailed 227 yards. At the national finals the best of two drives is used. After the driving portion of the competition, Meerdink was in third place.
Chipping was next, which involved two chips — which Meerdink left 2 feet, 9 inches and 8 feet, 8 inches from the hole — good enough for her to win that portion of the competition.
That translated to her taking a lead into the final skill of putting, which awarded her the advantage of going last among the 10 competitors.
“I got to see how the balls were rolling on the green,” Meerdink said. “It was the fastest green I’ve ever putted on. It was an adjustment.”
She added that the victory was undoubtedly the highlight of her golfing life, which started around age 5 with some putting alongside her dad, Trent.
The goal, she said, is simply to have fun with the game and continue to improve.
“I went to a summer camp a few years ago and it had swimming, tennis and golf and after doing all those I said, ‘I like golf,’” said Meerdink, who usually spends a couple of hours a day practicing.
“I love the game.”