On Sunday, September 13th, Nicole Criscone qualified for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Championships at Augusta National Golf Club. She qualified through the local stage at Saratoga National. Then went to Turning Stone to get through the second round. On Sunday, she visited the famed Country Club in Brookline, MA and won her division by 17 points. What makes this even more impressive was the fact she won the 10-11 age group at the age of 9! (She turns 10 a couple weeks before the Masters). This was no fluke, however, as she has the skill set, the desire and the work ethic to compete with any group and I could not be happier for her and her family. I thought that this accomplishment deserved more than a social media post, so here is a brief story of how I got to know Nicole.
I remember the day vividly. I had just shot somewhere in the 80's in a US Open Qualifier and I was in a state of golf depression. The ball hadn't gone where I wanted to (i.e. the hole), and my score was reflective of that. It was one of those rounds that made me wonder why I was pursuing this game as a career. I was driving home from the tournament thinking, I might need a break from golf for a little while, maybe knock the dust off my fishing poles for a couple of days. Then the phone rang and on the other side was Dottie Pepper. I wasn't sure why she was calling but was really hoping she wasn't calling to see how I played. (Actually, I'm sure she had no idea I even played that day, which in hindsight helped me realize that how I played doesn't really matter to anyone but me.) What she was calling about was far more important, as she was referring a student, whom she had gotten to know through some skiing adventures at Gore Mountain. Based on her description and recommendation, I was immediately intrigued and not 5 minutes later, I got a call from Craig, Nicole's father. That conversation and every day spent with Nicole there-on has been a wonderful and tremendous learning experience for us both.
At some point during our first session together, word got out that I had an affinity for chocolate milk. Since then, every time Nicole comes to visit, I am treated to a 12 oz. chocolate milk. Sometimes, in the back of my mind, I think Craig and Tammy are trying to sugar me up to keep up with Nicole's energy level, but honestly it would take a lot more than 12 oz. of chocolate to match her energy. Nicole likes to dance in between shots, chase butterflies, and will sometimes ask perfectly appropriate questions about nothing relevant. But, when it comes time to hit the shot at hand, all of her attention goes towards the task and the results are phenomenal. All of this is what makes her not only a great golfer but also a great 9-year old.
Some individuals have the spark that it takes to shift their focus from one task to another, and do it at a very high level. Nicole has this spark and it is of no surprise to me that she is successful at this game. Add to that, her passion for the game and the hard work that she puts in, and there you have it, a qualifier for Augusta National Drive, Chip and Putt. I could not be prouder of Nicole and her desire to get better and have fun doing it.
I want to thank Dottie for introducing me to Nicole and her parents, and for timing it perfectly on my otherwise bleak afternoon. I would also like acknowledge how Golf will always create ups, downs and everything in between. If we never experienced the bad, we would never appreciate the good. Success stories such as Nicole is why I choose Golf as my career. I am excited about her ride to Augusta and beyond and hope she inspires more golfers to enjoy the game the way a 9-year old should.