Talk about livin’ the dream. Fifteen-year-old sophomore Tyler Kowack from the Canyon Crest golf team spent last weekend (April 5-8) at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia—yes, the same course where this weekend the top players in the world are pursuing the iconic green jacket given annually to the winner of The Masters. The first leg of pro golf’s Grand Slam, The Masters is inarguably one of the premier sporting events on the planet, thanks largely to the pure mystique of its location.
Three years ago via lottery, Kowack had his first opportunity to see Augusta National, attending The Masters’ Wednesday practice round and par three contest with his father, Erick—but this year’s trip was different. The 5-foot-6, 140-pound Carmel Valley resident actually played his way onto the grounds and got to unpack his sticks on the course—or at least a portion of it.
Kowack was part of the Drive, Chip & Putt (DCP) Championship, a free nationwide junior skills competition open to boys and girls, ages 7-15, jointly created by the Masters Tournament, United States Golf Association (USGA) and the Professional Golfers Association (PGA). Last September at Torrey Pines, he won the third of a three-stage qualifying process that made him one of 80 golfers (10 in each of eight age categories) to secure an invitation to Augusta National. It was Kowack’s fifth and final shot at obtaining a DCP Championship berth and an invite to his sport’s most hallowed ground.
Once there, in the 14-15-year-old division, Kowack captured fifth place overall. After earning third in the driving segment with a blast of 238.4 yds., he was seventh in the chipping with a two shot aggregate of 16 ft. and fourth in putting with a 5-ft., 1-inch combined distance. Although he would have liked to have finished higher, it was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion.
“It was, for sure, one of the coolest experiences I have ever had,” said Kowack. “Getting to meet so many pro golfers and top people in the golf industry while also getting to compete at one of the best courses in the world. It was a dream come true.”
Now back in San Diego competing with his Canyon Crest teammates, Kowack shared some of his thoughts on the recent journey as well as the remainder of the 2019 prep season.
Q—What can you tell us about the non-competitive parts of the trip?
KOWACK—We got a tour of the course, which is the most amazing thing ever, had an overview meeting with all of the contestants to go over the rules and procedures, had a practice session Saturday at the official practice course, the River Golf Club, in Augusta which was really nice, and had a golf trivia social event that paired all of the players from each qualifying site.
But I think the Saturday night formal dinner at the hotel was maybe the coolest non-golf event of the weekend. The DCP event was televised on The Golf Channel and we got to meet the announcers, Mike Tirico and Peter Jacobsen, we met the chairman of Augusta National Fred Ridley, the heads of the USGA (Mike Davis) and PGA (Suzy Whaley), all super-important golf people. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was also in attendance as well as a lot of key local political figures.
Q—Are the facilities really as beautiful and conditions really as perfect as one always hears?
KOWACK—The facilities were perfect and all of the grass is perfectly green—kind of like golf heaven. As far as the conditions, I can say that the chipping green was the best I’ve ever hit on. There was not a single divot in sight on the driving range and I didn’t see a ball or spike mark during the putting contest. Their practice green was better than the greens I’ve seen on virtually all the courses I’ve played. It hadn’t been rolled yet for The Masters, but it was very fast—it was crazy getting used to that speed.
Q—Can you take us through each of the three competitions?
KOWACK—The two-shot driving contest was first up and it was best drive in the fairway. That first drive was probably my most nerve-wracking moment of the whole event. I was definitely just trying to put it in the fairway. I found a target up the left side, just told myself to take an easy swing, cut it and hit the fairway. I think I nailed it—it felt good. I needed to get about 8-10 yds. to move up with my second shot. I tried to swing a little harder and hit a draw but my back foot slipped and it went just out of bounds.
The chipping contest was two swings from about 50 ft. We were on a down slope, hitting into an up slope. It was not my best but it was a pretty challenging chip. To get it right, you had to hit it above the up slope and make it stop pretty quickly because there was a down slope past the hole.
The putting competition was two putts, the first from 30 ft., an uphill shot with a good amount of break left, and the second was from 15 ft., pretty flat with a right-to-left break—I made that one. There were somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people around the green for the putting and I’ve definitely never played in front of a crowd like that. The most that’s ever watched me was maybe 20. I’m not sure why, but I don’t think it really affected me. There was a camera in my face all of the time, though, and that kind of bothered me a little.
Q—Did you come away with any good swag?
KOWACK—We all got DC&P shirts for the competition as well as a bunch of Masters’ logoed shirts and balls. We each also got a jacket and belt with the Masters logo. We got everything. The jacket wasn’t green, though, you have to earn that.
Q—You also received passes to Monday’s practice round. What was that like and did you have any takeaways for your own game from what you observed?
KOWACK—It was great to be able to go out on the course and experience Augusta again. We didn’t have any special access but we followed Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson and spent a lot of time at the range. There we were mainly watching Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffle, a San Diego guy.
I noticed all of the guy s have something like “trackman” measuring all of their numbers. Knowing that they place so much importance on having that type of equipment to help them get better, I realized, I have to make sure I know my own numbers. If they know more, they can be more confident with their shots, distances and decision-making out there.
Q—What can you tell us about the Canyon Crest golf season so far and what are your CIF hopes for the team as well as yourself?
KOWACK—We’re in the top five right now after barely being the top 10 last year and we have been right there in our league with Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon which are outstanding teams. We lost a bunch of seniors from last year’s team but have made up for that by having a super solid freshmen class.
We were able to beat Torrey Pines in one of our dual matches. In windy conditions, we shot very well that day at Rancho Santa Fe Country Club. It was playing 7,200 yds. which is super long. We didn’t get upset at bad shots and accepted that bogeys were bound to happen in those conditions. I think we might have handled it a bit better than they did. But Torrey Pines is insanely good and if we want to have any hopes of beating them again or other really good teams, we have to stay positive and make sure we don’t beat ourselves.
As far as CIF, we definitely want to compete for the CIF team championship and, personally, I would like to advance from the San Diego CIF tournament to the State CIF tournament. The top five teams and top five individuals make it and it will be very competitive. I wasn’t ready last year and missed the cut. I feel like we have a chance to advance this season.