News & Opinion

N.J. sisters make Drive, Chip and Putt a family affair

Sisters Megha and Sirina Ganne (from left) of Holmdel, N.J., with their coach, Katie Brenny of The First Tee of Metropolitan New York, will compete in Sunday’s Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club.

NEW YORK – Sisters Megha and Sirina Ganne regularly hit balls into a net in the living room of their home in Holmdel, N.J., and practice putting on a foam green in their parents' bedroom. On Sunday, before the Masters begins in earnest, the Ganne (pronounced GAH-nay) girls will compete among the 80 finalists – 40 boys and 40 girls ages 7-15 – invited to the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club. Impressively, they are not the only sibling duo. Treed and Maye Huang of Katy, Texas, will compete, too. 

Megha, 13, is no stranger to Augusta National, having qualified in 2015. On her flight from Charlotte, N.C., to Augusta, she nearly jumped out of her skin when she realized that two-time major champion Martin Kaymer was seated in front of her. But she regained her composure, and utilizing some of the social skills learned in The First Tee program, asked for a photo with him. Then she casually added, "I'm actually playing at Augusta, too." Kaymer shared tips on the greens, asked about her tee time, and the then-reigning U.S. Open champion showed up to see her tee off.

"That was really cool," Megha said. "I didn't think a pro like that would want to come and watch me, but he did and that felt really special."

She finished sixth, but missed out last year and watched on Golf Channel. 

"It reminded me of the reward for working hard and qualifying," she said. "Watching gave me motivation to practice, practice and practice."

That, at its essence, is the beauty of DCP, golf's version of football’s Punt, Pass and Kick. Whether it lives up to its billing as a "grow the game" program is debatable, but it clearly gives passionate junior golfers something tangible to strive to achieve. 

PGA pro Katie Brenny, senior director of player development for The First Tee of Metropolitan New York, first met Megha at an LPGA-USGA Girls Golf clinic at Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth, N.J. 

"Everything was perfect in her golf swing," Brenny said. "I've watched enough kids hit golf balls now that when you see that one kid that is like this shining star in golf, it stopped me dead in my tracks and I said, Who is this kid?"

Brenny asked to meet her parents, and told Ganne's father, Hari, that Megha showed great promise.

"We just thought it was cute that she hit the ball perfect every time," he said.

Sirina, 9, soon tired of watching her big sister take lessons, grabbed a club and fell hard for the game, too.  

"Every time she would have her swing speed above 30 mph, we got to celebrate and do a little dance or something," Brenny said.

The sisters are beneficiaries of having a coach such as Brenny, who played college golf at Wake Forest and tried the mini-tours before realizing that coaching was her true passion. Brenny had just begun living her dream in 2010 as coach of Minnesota’s women's golf team when her career was sidetracked. She successfully sued the school for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Brenny still wanted to coach, and she has found the perfect fit.

At The First Tee, Brenny leads a DCP practice every Wednesday to simulate the competition. She has developed a unique approach to creating a pressure-packed situation comparable with chipping at Augusta National while TV cameras roll. While Megha pitches bump-and-run shots of 30-40 yards, Brenny stands 10 feet in front of her and a foot off of her line, turns her back and tells Megha, "Don't hit me!"

"It helps," Megha said. "When I'm in the competition, I think, Well, at least nobody's life is at stake here."   

DCP, a joint effort of the U.S. Golf Association, Masters Tournament and the PGA of America, competes in all 50 states in May-August. Top local performers advance through sub-regional and regional qualifiers in July-September. At a regional qualifier at Baltusrol, Sirina went first and booked her ticket to Augusta. 

"Now I have to make it," Megha said. "There's no way my little sister is going to go alone."

For Megha and Sirina, Sunday will begin with a ride down Magnolia Lane. Their drives will be struck from the tournament practice facility, the chips from the short-game area and their two official putts from the same 18th green where a Masters champion will emerge seven days later. It's pretty heady stuff. No wonder it has sparked their competitive desire.

Said Megha: "The chance to play at Augusta makes it that much more fun to practice than it already is."

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf World and The New York Times. He is the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak