AUGUSTA, Ga. — Luciano Giangrosse is only 9 years old, but he’s already a golfing celebrity.
Luciano was one of five youngsters from Illinois to survive the nationwide qualifying events for the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. The finals were Sunday at Augusta National, and Luciano won the chipping competition in the 7- to 9- year-old boys division. That’s quite an accomplishment given that there were finalists from 27 states as well as Canada and France. All advanced through 290 qualifying sites held in all 50 states last summer.
The overall winner in each age group was determined after competition in chipping, putting and driving. Luciano was in position to win the overall title in his age group, standing tied for third entering the concluding putting competition. He dropped to eighth in that phase and wound up tie for fifth overall.
His success did not go unnoticed, either. The First Tee of Greater Chicago organized TV watch parties for the Drive, Chip and Putt in Luciano’s honor and his father Anthony texted updated on his progress.
“I didn’t expect the greens would be that fast,” Luciano said. The putting side of the competition was held on the 18th green of the Augusta National course that will host the Masters tournament beginning on Thursday. Masters participants handed out the prizes and galleries applauded the efforts of all the players competing.
Luciano lives in Evanston and is a third-grader at Washington Elementary School in Evanston. He also plays at the Canal Shores course in that city but he and his father travel all around the area, and beyond, on their golf trips.
On Tuesday, Luciano began play for the season in the PGA Junior League program at the Chicago Park District’s Robert Black Course. On Saturday, after the family returns home, his First Tee season begins at Foss Park. Anthony, a 10-handicap golfer, is a volunteer coach in that program.
To get ready for the Drive, Chip and Putt finals they spent considerable weekend time at the Buffalo Grove Golf Dome as well as on equipment in the family basement.
It paid off big-time on his two chipping attempts on Sunday. Luciano put his first attempt 5 feet 3 inches from the cup and his second 1 foot 9 inches.
Before leaving Augusta, Luciano and Anthony will walk all 18 holes at Augusta National today when practice rounds begin for the Masters. The family that drove to Augusta included father, mother, brother, grandmother, cousin and coach Darryl Stackhouse.
Last year Luciano entered Drive, Chip and Putt for the first time and finished sixth in the first stage of qualifying. The road to Augusta calls for three stages the 80 youngsters in the 6-15 age group — 40 boys and 40 girls — reaching the nationally-televised finals. There were four age divisions for both the boys and girls.
Luciano won the local stage in his age group in 2018 at a practice facility in Peoria, and then won a regional elimination at Cog Hill in Lemont and a sub-regional at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. He and the other finalists had to wait several months before Sunday’s well-watched finals.
“It was nerve-wracking,” said Anthony. “You want your kid to enjoy this as much as possible, but he worked his tail off to get here. The experience for him was all about the next step. His reward for winning the local round was we would play 36 holes. After he won at Cog Hill it was to play a round at Whistling Straits. If he got here he would get a new set of clubs.”
The overall experience wasn’t all about the rewards, however.
“It was really fun,” said Luciano. “The game room (in Augusta) was great with every one interacting with each other. It was fun meeting all the other participants.”
The other Illinois finalists enjoyed the wide range of activities as well, though they didn’t fare as well as Luciano in the competition. Buffalo Grove’s Lilian She was seventh in the 7-9 girls division, Silvis’ Isaac Rumler 10th in the 10-11 boys, West Chicago’s Joseph Luchtenburg tied for eighth in the 12-13 boys and Sugar Grove’s Joshua Pehl 10th in the 14-15 boys.
Entries are already being taken for the summer-long qualifying tournaments for the 2020 Drive, Chip and Putt. Illinois PGA members can provide details.
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