Rozner: Pair of young winners happily heading to Augusta
Nope. Not jealous. Definitely not.
Not even a little.
Not even a little jealous that two young golf stars will be on the grounds of Augusta National on the eve of The Masters, participating in the Drive, Chip and Putt finals April 5, the competition ultimately decided on the famed 18th green.
When you watch the event live on Golf Channel, you will recognize the Sunday pin placement on the hole named "Holly," and 11-year-old Reese Wallace of South Barrington already knows it well, given that she saw her idol tap in on 18 a year ago as Tiger Woods captured his 15th major championship.
"It's just crazy to think that I'll be on the same green he was on when he won The Masters," Wallace said Tuesday at Medinah's Golf Learning Center. "I really don't have the words to express my excitement."
A very bright and polished golfer, Wallace has been trying to get through the qualifiers and make it to Augusta since she was 6 years old, this time surviving the Illinois PGA local at Effingham and the subregional at Oak Brook before graduating from the regional in Colorado.
She was one of tens of thousands competing in 2019 and among more than 1,300 just in Illinois, including Northbrook 11-year-old Logan Keeter, who emerged from the local at Pine Meadow, the subregional at Countryside and the regional at Interlachen in Minnesota.
A total of 80 golfers in four age divisions from 10 regional qualifiers secured a spot in the National Finals, probably no one more surprised than Keeter, who has only been playing golf for about a year.
"I think my dad is more excited than me because he gets to go there and watch me play, and then watch the pros practice Monday," Keeter said Tuesday at Medinah, which will host a DCP regional in September. "It's been his dream to go there."
In that regard, the son has given the father quite the keepsake.
"Usually, you hope your kids do well and they reward you down the line," laughed David Keeter, Logan's dad. "This is an early gift for me.
"I'm jumping out of my shoes to get there and see it, but I'm trying to hide it from him a little so he doesn't feel any pressure. We don't care at all what happens or how he does there. We're just excited for the experience."
A soccer and baseball player who's been on travel teams for years, Logan Keeter was new to golf, a righty using left-handed clubs that were at least 10 years old.
"We were watching Drive, Chip and Putt the previous April, and Logan said he wanted to try," said David Keeter. "For a kid who's never done it before, it's just incredible that he made it out of the local.
"So then he took three lessons between the local and the subregional and he improved a lot, but the first thing the pro said was, 'He needs real clubs.' He's comfortable hitting lefty, but now he's got better clubs than I ever had."
Again the father laughs, but he is keenly aware of how talented his son is and yet how improbable this run has been.
"It's crazy. I think he could be a much better golfer two years from now and never get this chance again. That's how hard it is," David Keeter said. "When he got past locals, that was beyond our expectations. This is all gravy now.
"He's just a super-competitive kid who loves the game. And no matter what, this is one of the moments he'll look back on and be like, 'I got to go to Augusta and putt on 18 green.'
"How great is that?"
The children will travel on Saturday, have an Augusta dinner that night, followed by the National Finals Sunday, a lunch, and then an opportunity Monday to wander the golf course during an official Masters practice round, before flying home Tuesday.
"It's awesome to know that you're going to a place so many great champions have been, and so many will be again," Wallace said. "I've always felt like it would be a dream to go there."
Wallace became interested at 2 years old when she swiped her grandfather Bill's putter, and by age 4 she was on the range dropping buckets large and small. At age 6 she was already trying to qualify in the 7-9 age group and has attempted each year since.
"I've been to regionals many times and been so close," she said. "I didn't have any words for it when I won. Now, we all get to go. It's good to have an experience with my parents and have my grandpa there, too."
Her father is thrilled that she will get such a rare opportunity.
"I just wanted to see Augusta, but to have your kid there competing, it's like a dream come true as a dad and as a golfer," said Nick Wallace. "I'm so excited for her. I'm so proud of her, but nervous for her.
"I'm glad it's her hitting the shots, not me."
Mom will be there holding his hand, which might be more essential than looking out for a very confident Reese.
"She's been doing this for a number of years and this was her goal. We're ecstatic for her that she got what she wanted," said mom Cindy Wallace. "We've been on this journey with her for so long. We know what a big deal it is."
Logan Keeter also knows and he's been preparing by studying putts from past competitions and previous Masters.
"I watch that putt on 18 at Augusta almost every day," Logan said. "I read the putt on TV and then I practice that putt every morning at home in the basement. I think I'll be ready when I get there."
Not jealous at all. Nope. Not even a little.