Making it to the national finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt competition, which takes place just before the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club, is quite a feat with just 80 players ages 7-15 making it each year.
But making it four times?
That puts you in elite company, with Kasey Maralack of Snoqualmie becoming the fourth person to do it when she qualified in 2019 for the 2020 finals. As a 15-year-old, it would’ve been her final appearance in the event.
The event was postponed last April due to the coronavirus pandemic, so a year later, at 16, she competed at Augusta on Sunday and finished second.
“It’s amazing, this whole experience of Drive, Chip & Putt,” said Maralack, a junior at Mount Si High School. “It comes down to nine shots, and golf is much longer than that. It’s just really focusing on those nine shots.”
Competitors hit three drives, three chips and three putts in local and regional qualifying. In the finals, it’s two chances at each.
In 2018, Maralack finished second in the 12-13 division, and was in the lead, heading into putting — the last segment of the competition.
Putting from 15 feet, Maralack had to get her final putt within 1 foot to win.
“That was probably one of the hardest putts I have ever hit,” Maralack said.
It went a few feet past, but now she will get another chance to win, and she said before going to Augusta that she thought having so much experience in the finals would help her. But just getting to the event was a big win.
“We found out two or three months ago that it was for sure happening,” Maralack said. “I was hoping (it would be rescheduled). I wasn’t sure if they were going to have to cancel altogether.”
Maralack started playing golf at 3, following in the footsteps of sister Caitlin, who is six years older and played college golf at the University of Hartford.
Maralack plays regularly at the Club at Snoqualmie Ridge. She has a plus-1.9 handicap, “so I am finally a scratch golfer,” she said.
Maralack placed 12th as a freshman at the state 4A high school championships.
When coronavirus restrictions took effect last March, her practice was confined to an indoor studio at her house.
When golf courses opened in May, she put even more work into her game, practicing by herself and playing with her father and sister every weekend.
So which of the two sisters is the better golfer?
“I would have to say me,” Kasey said.
In September, Maralack made news when she won an American Junior Golf Association tournament in Arkansas, the first AJGA event she had competed in.
Now, her focus is on the upcoming high school season.
“I am super excited because my freshman year was so much fun,” Maralack said of playing for Mount Si. “I was kind of bummed that my sophomore year got canceled. I am really excited to be playing on a team again. It’s such a different environment playing with other people.”
Maralack said just getting to the finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt makes you “feel like you’ve already won.”
“I think regionals is the most stressful part,” she said. “Once you get there, you just focus on one shot at a time and enjoy the experience, because it’s an experience like I’ve never had before.”
Maralack reached the finals for the first time at 9 and said she didn’t grasp the whole experience of playing at the famous course, “but was blown away by everything that was happening.”
“It almost seems fake until you touch it, and then you go, ‘It is real,'” Maralack said of course. “They take such good care of it.”
Maralack said before the event that she was going to have fun.
“It is so hard to get to Augusta,” she said. “People dream about it, and the fact that I am going there for a fourth time in this Drive, Chip & Putt format is just an experience that I am going to appreciate a lot more, especially knowing it’s my last time.”
Someday, she would like to return for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“I am hoping that one day I can play the entire course, in that event,” she said. “It would be an amazing experience.”