A journey that started last summer for Andrew LaCongo will end Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club.
The home of next week’s Masters Tournament will host the Drive, Chip and Putt national championships. LaCongo, a 15-year-old from Holland, will compete in the 14-15 age group.
“I’ve been trying to prepare myself and stay calm through the whole thing,” he said. “I’m guessing there’s going to be a little bit of nerves with all the people watching and just being at one of the greatest places in golf, but I’m just trying to stay relaxed and positive.”
LaCongo earned his trip to Augusta last summer, placing third in local qualifying at Ravenwood Country Club in Victor. That advanced him to sub-regional qualifying at Harvest Hill, where he placed second and earned a spot in the regional qualifying field. He then won the regional qualifier at Oakmont – site of this year’s U.S. Open.
“That was very exciting,” he said. “Oakmont’s a really nice place.”
During the regional qualifier, LaCongo won the driving portion of the competition, tied for first in chipping and came in fourth in putting. On average, his drives travel between 250 and 270 yards, he said. To prepare for Sunday, LaCongo has been logging long hours with his coach, Gary Occhino.
“I’ve been working on my swing and loading up to the ball,” he said. I’m just trying to “get good hip rotation through the swing and make sure I’m making solid contact every time.”
With practice sessions for the national championships pretty much limited to work that can be done indoors, LaCongo said a lot of time has been devoted to his putting.
“It’s probably the hardest part of the game, but the easiest to work on, so I’ve been doing that a lot,” he said. “My stroke has pretty consistent with hitting the ball solid, right on the center of the club face.”
A member at East Aurora Country Club and freshman at Holland, LaCongo played this season on the combined East Aurora/Holland golf team. A two-time participant in the International Junior Masters, he started playing at age 7 and has carded a low round of 72 for 18 holes and 35 for nine.
“I want to play in college and eventually make it to some type of pro tour,” he said.
A total of 80 finalists from 30 states and two Canadian provinces, ages 7 to 15, will compete in the boys and girls divisions. A joint initiative founded in 2013 by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association and The PGA of America, the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is a free junior golf development competition designed to grow the game by focusing on three fundamental skills.
LaCongo made it to sub-regional qualifying in 2014 before advancing to the national championships, which will air at 8 a.m. Sunday live on the Golf Channel. He’s the third player from the Western New York PGA section to advance this far.
Want to follow in LaCongo’s footsteps? You’ll get a chance this summer. Local qualifiers will be held on July 20 at Harvest Hill and July 26 at Fox Valley. A sub-regional qualifier will then take place Aug. 4 at Fox Valley. Those advancing from there will compete in a regional at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., on Sept. 24 for a spot in the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt national championships.
Those interested can go to DriveChipandPutt.com for more information or to register.