Ashnoor Kaur’s accomplishments in golf are impressive. No, make that spectacular.
In June, 2020 she won the women’s division of the Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame Championship. Impressive in its own right considering she rallied from five shots down after the first round at Ashley Plantation to catch the leaders in the second and final round at Roanoke Country Club before taking the title in a one-hole playoff.
Talk about handling the pressure with veins of ice.
Earlier this month Kaur took her game to an even higher plateau when she traveled to Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia, home of The Masters, to compete in the 2021 Master’s Drive, Chip & Putt Championship. Kaur again showed her talent in front of many of the best golfers in North America, Augusta National, PGA and USGA officials, along with viewers watching the competition on The Golf Channel.
A pretty spectacular feat considering the best PGA players in the world would be beginning the fabled Masters Tournament the following day at Augusta National, leading to Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama winning the green jacket on the same course Kaur had competed on only seven days earlier.
Now, as famous commentator Paul Harvey would say in his daily news radio broadcasts, “The rest of the story.”
Ashnoor Kaur is only eleven years old.
No typo there. Ashnoor Kaur isn’t close to being able to vote or legally drive a car. Heck, at most golf clubs she’s not old enough to drive the golf cart. But, that’s not an obstacle for this junior golfer who definitely has her game in the fast lane.
Kaur had laid the groundwork for her latest successes when she won the World Championship US Kids 2017, as well as second place in the Drive, Chip & Putt regionals in both 2017 and 2018.
In March, at the invitation by officials of Augusta National and Drive, Chip & Putt, I was given the opportunity for an exclusive interview with Kaur for The Roanoke Star to recount her experiences in her road to Augusta National.
Kaur began playing golf at age 6, originally becoming interested in the game watching her dad, Billy Singh, and others play at Draper Valley Golf Course in Pulaski County where her family had a home.
“My dad introduced me to golf,” Kaur said during the interview a few days after returning from Augusta. “I liked putting, pitching and chipping, but most of all playing with friends and family.”
Kaur become more intent on improving in a sport where practice makes perfect, and her dedication to improve quickly began showing dividends.
“I practice every day, “Kaur noted. “I’ll work on some aspect of my game to get better. Even when the weather is bad, rainy or cold, I can move indoors to hit shots and practice.”
Four years ago, Kaur began taking lessons from noted area golf teaching pro, Steve Prater.
Prater was running his teaching school out of Roanoke Country Club where Kaur is a member.
“Steve really helped me improve a number of areas of my game, “Kaur says. “I would take a lesson once a week or once every two weeks at the least. My scores improved and at Roanoke Country Club I can typically shoot 77-78 from the gold tees.”
On Ashnoor’s Augusta National profile, it listed her best 9-hole score as 33 and 18-hole best at 72. But, the road to Augusta required additional elements; a lot of perseverance and determination to succeed.
Conducted in partnership between the Masters Tournament, the PGA of America and the USGA, Drive, Chip and Putt is a free youth golf development initiative for junior golfers of all skill and ability levels, aimed at sparking a lifelong interest in the game. The initiative welcomes boys and girls, ages 7-15, in four age categories.
Tens of thousands of participants had the opportunity to qualify for the event which began with more than 300 local qualifiers played at courses across all 50 states. From there, the top finishers advance through more than 60 sub-regional competitions to one of 10 regional qualifiers at some of the nation’s most acclaimed venues and championship sites. Finally, the 80 regional winners across the four age groups, 40 boys and 40 girls, earn a trip to Augusta National Golf Club to participate in the DC&P National Finals.
Kaur, who was making her third try in the grueling DC&P road to Augusta, began her journey to the National Finals by finishing in the top-3 at Methodist University Golf Course in Fayetteville, NC, followed by advancing in the sub-regional qualifier at Duke University Golf Club where only the top two finishers advanced to the regional qualifier at the Atlanta Athletic Club. Only the winner in Atlanta would advance to Augusta National.
“When I advanced to the regional qualifier there was a lot of pressure,” Kaur admitted. “You knew you had to win to make it to Augusta, and it really became more nerve-racking.”
Kaur was up to the challenge and won by 10 points.
“It was really exciting to realize you’re going to have the opportunity to compete at Augusta National.”
Kaur noted she didn’t change anything in her preparation for the trip to Augusta. “I just stayed with my same plan and same practice routine.”
Kaur left for Augusta on the Thursday before Sunday’s competition. She had a friend who lived 20 miles from Augusta, but players were only allowed to arrive 45 minutes prior to the start of Sunday’s practice and competition.
“Our goal since the founding of this event was to provide opportunities that would inspire young boys and girls to develop and deepen their love for the great game of golf,” said Paul Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, in a message to the media. “These 80 National Finalists showed immense passion and talent, and seeing them perform at Augusta is something we are proud and fortunate to celebrate.”
“Drive, Chip and Putt is a showcase for the future of the game,” noted PGA President Jim Richerson. “Starting at the grassroots level with events hosted by PGA Professionals across our 41 Sections nationwide, junior golfers have an opportunity to achieve an amazing dream of competing in the National Finals at Augusta National. The talent on display was outstanding and we congratulate each of the finalists, led by the eight girls and boys who will now hold the title of Drive, Chip and Putt Champion.”
“We are thrilled to successfully add another Drive, Chip and Putt to the history books,” said Mike Davis, CEO of the USGA. “Each year we are consistently impressed with this talented group of golfers and this year is no different. We are thankful to each participant for inspiring junior golfers across the nation, and we look forward to following their journey in the years ahead.”
Now, it was showtime for Ashnoor.
Points were awarded in the three individual skill categories (driving, chipping and putting), with the winner in each skill receiving 10 points, second place receiving 9 points, and so on, all the way down to 1 point. The player with the most points following all three competitions was declared the overall winner of the age group.
In the driving portion, the better of two distances was used for the score. Each player then took two chips, the closest cumulative distance to the hole determined the winner. Finally, the players moved to Augusta National’s 18th green where they attempted two putts from 30 and 15 feet; and used the cumulative distance from the hole to determine the score.
“We drew the random order that we would practice and actually compete,” Kaur noted.
Ashnoor scored best in the chipping discipline where she scored 6 points.
“Chipping has always been one of my strengths, but the green was deceptively soft,” she pointed out.
She scored 5 points in driving distance, followed by 2 in putting where Augusta’s 18th proved very challenging.
“The 30-fooit putt went uphill, crested and then fell downhill to the hole,” Kaur said. “My putt ended up 6 feet from the hole.”
The final result in her Girls 10-11 Division was very close top-to-bottom. Only 8.5 points separated Ashnoor from the lead. A foot here or there made all the difference, especially considering division winner Elyse Meerdink had to sink her final 15-foot putt to win by one-half point over two other girls.
Next stop for Ashnoor will be the prestigious Scott Robertson Memorial Junior Golf Tournament at Roanoke County Club in May where many of the best junior golfers in the world will compete and where numerous current PGA and LPGA players have been prior champions.
Little doubt, with Augusta National under her belt, Kaur will be ready for the pressure of another high-profile event.