News & Opinion

A purpose (and a smile) unlike any other

Let me introduce you to Rhett Roberts. He’s 11. He wears braces on both legs and a very cool Ben Hogan-style cap.

Rhett was diagnosed at age 3 with cerebral palsy. Six years later, while watching the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals on television, he turned to his parents, Jeff and Telea, and said, “I want to do that.”

And in 2016, he competed in the DC&P at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C. He didn’t go far in the competition, failing to advance from the field of 21 in his 10-11 age group, but what Rhett said immediately afterwards was the “thumbs up” moment.

“I can’t wait until next year,” Rhett said.

The Roberts family lives in Waxhaw, N.C., and this year Rhett again will try to qualify at Carmel. Rhett and his dad go out to practice every chance that they get: driving, chipping and putting.

“He has a lot of trouble walking,” Jeff Roberts said. “Balance is a big issue. It hasn’t discouraged him from trying a lot of different things. He plays adaptive sports. He loves to participate.

“He loves golf; I love golf.”

The point of all this is that a recent Morning Read commentary by Ted Bishop, former president of the PGA of America, missed an important point about the DC&P (“Drive, Chip and Putt appeals mainly to elite juniors,” April 12, bit.ly/2oY59NS). There’s no disputing Bishop’s comments that the kids reaching Augusta National Golf Club are accomplished junior golfers. They have coaches, mentors and impressive backgrounds in various levels of junior competition. These aren’t kids just taking up the game. They are tried, tested and true. Agreed.

However, to conclude, as Bishop does, that the success of DC&P is flawed based on those assertions loses sight of the big picture.

The success of the initiative is in its outreach which, although difficult to quantify, is substantial.

There are significant benefits to DC&P’s ability to grow the game that can’t be measured by what is happening one Sunday at Augusta National. It’s about all the young people – like Rhett Roberts – being captivated and energized by the occasion and by what they are seeing.

It’s the big picture, not just the television picture.

In the interest of full disclosure, during the Masters Tournament I write for Masters.com. I’ve interviewed young people, like Rhett. Trust me: They’re impressionable kids who are watching the televised finals and declaring, “Hey, this is pretty cool. How do I get to do it?” They may never become champion golfers, but they most likely will become golfers at some level, and that’s the point, isn’t it?

Bob Baldassari is director of youth golf development for the PGA of America. He regularly visits some of the 256 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship local qualifiers around the country to support the operation when and where needed.

“Rhett was not a ceremonial participant,” Baldassari said. “Absolutely not. Rhett was trying very hard. He was an inspiration to others, both the competitors and the adults.”

Rhett Roberts may never appear on TV or win a golf tournament, but the die has been cast for him to become a golfer for life. By the way, he already has registered to compete again in DC&P this summer.

Vartan Kupelian covered his first U.S. Open in 1973 at Oakmont Country Club. A past president of the Golf Writers Association of America, he was a sports writer and columnist at The Detroit News for 38 years. He has covered more than 100 major championships across all tours. Email: golfstix@aol.com