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Youth golfer takes 1st in competition

Golfer Lucas Vanderlip, who attends Kalmiopsis Elementary, exhibits the swing form he used to earn four first place ribbons at a recent Drive, Pitch & Putt qualifying event.

When he was barely old enough to remember Lucas Vanderlip, now 7-years-old of Brookings, would hit golf balls against a metal shed and practice putting in the family room at his father Chad’s domicile in Gold Beach.

“One day I was cooking in the kitchen and kinda keeping an eye on him,” Chad Vanderlip said. “Out of the corner of my eye I would hear him swing but wouldn’t hear the bang of the ball against the shed. I went over and watched him and he’s standing there and he opens that blade (of the golf club) and takes a full swing and the ball was just gone. He was hitting the ball over the shed and into a lot where a new house was being built and I said, “Whoa, great shot! Don’t ever do that again. He’s got a knack for it. It came pretty easy to him.”

Lucas has proven his father’s words to be prophetic as he combined technique, talent and mental fortitude to sweep every blue ribbon at the Drive, Chip & Putt qualifying event held on July 14 at Emerald Valley Golf Course in Creswell.

“Winning was exciting but I was also sad because I made a friend there and was hoping he would also win a medal. So I was happy for myself but sad for him. I was just overloaded with emotions,” admitted Lucas during an interview at Cedar Bend Golf Course.

He didn’t just compete, he dominated the 10-player field in the boys 7 to 9-year-old division, sweeping all three challenges en route to earning first place overall and a spot in the subregional qualifier on August 28 at the Merriweather National Golf Course in HIllsboro. Drive, Pitch & Putt competitions began a year ago under the partnership of the PGA, USGA and The Masters as a way to promote the sport of golf to a younger generation. 

Competitions are held in all 50 states and are divided into the three events, with each golfer getting three shots per event. Lucas competed in one of four qualifying events held recently in Oregon.

The driving portion is measured by total distance with shots counting as long as they stay inbounds. Lucas nailed all three of his drives with his longest coming on his third shot, a 149-yard bomb that outdistanced his previous shot by more than 30-yards.

“He paused before his third drive and I wasn’t sure what he was doing because he had his back turned to the crowd and we can’t coach them when they are competing,” said Chad. “What he told me he did was he closed his eyes and said to himself…”

“Shut up and hit the golf ball,” interjected Lucas.

“And he crushed one, 149-yards right down the middle.”

For the chip portion of the competition, Lucas had to place his three shots inside of diametric circles placed around the pin, similar to circles on a target surrounding a bullseye. The closer to the pin, the higher the score. Lucas was able to use his first shot to help him gauge his following strokes. After garnering one point in his first shot he earned five points on his second shot and 15 on his third to take first in the event.

“After I got through the driving event it was like I was just playing normally; just chipping and putting,” said Lucas regarding his demeanor entering the chipping contest. “I think my third shots (during the driving and chipping events) are better because I adjusted. I learn from the first two shots and then use it to my advantage.”

Feeling confident and comfortable, Lucas made quick work of his competition in the putting event, which is scored similarly to the pitching event. The young prodigy, who attends Kalmiopsis Elementary School, scored a whopping 50 points to win the putting competition, completing the sweep and earning him first place overall with one of the top scores of the day for any age group, male or female.

If Lucas wins the upcoming subregional in Hillsboro he will advance to the regional finals in Salt Lake City in September. If he is victorious there he’ll advance to the finals at Augusta National, famed site of The Master golf championship. The youngster, humble in victory, admits competing at one of the most famous courses in the world would be a great experience. 

“If I were able to go there that would be awesome,” he said. 

Chad said that he is ecstatic about his son’s performance but is more impressed with his son’s demeanor on and off the course.

“We went to church one day and he had his new Ricky Fowler Puma hat on and there was a man named George out in front greeting people,” said Chad. “I wanted to catch Lucas and tell him to take his hat off before he goes into church but he was already heading toward the door. He walks up to George, gets an arms length away, the hat comes off and his hand comes out. George shakes his hand, looks at me and says, “I haven’t seen that in 30 years.” That’s a moment that I’ll never forget as far as other things kids learn from getting involved in this game. The reality is, there are thousands of kids that have perfect swings. The odds of then turning into Tiger Woods or Ricky Fowler are very slim. That’s a fact, but to be able to learn this game and take it on, it teaches values they can carry with them later in life.”

Those values are already taking hold in his son, as Lucas has remained humble and grounded post victory.

“It’s fun to make friends and I don’t care if I do good or not (at the next competition) because I won this event and it was really fun to win it,” said the talented athlete whose favorite pro golfers are Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson. “It’s about being out there getting the experience, and the next time I go out there I will know what to do a little bit better.” 

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