Best friends Chloe Kovelesky and Kayla Bryant live down the street from each other, they practice and play golf together and they are both headed to Augusta National Golf Club.
Kovelesky, 10, and Bryant, 9, are competing next Sunday in the finals of the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship, which kicks off the Masters Tournament at the storied golf course.
That two youngsters at Boca Woods Country Club are among the 80 golfers ages 7-15 from 30 states and Canada to make it to the finals of the prestigious event is remarkable.
But the two friends are just happy that they both get to take part in the competition, which awards points based on the length of a player’s best drive and the total distance from the hole of two chips and two putts. The dramatic setting of the finals, which will be televised from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Golf Channel, will not distract them.
“I don’t worry,” said Kovelesky, who is competing in the Girls 10-11 division. “I never get nervous no matter what. Even if I’m under pressure, they’re going to be proud of you because you know what? You tried your best and you tried your hardest. Never get nervous, because it’ll only make it worse.”
“I usually never get nervous,” said Bryant, who is competing in the Girls 7-9 division. “I just do what I usually do. I stick to my routine and I just try my best. And like Chloe said, they’re going to be proud of you no matter what because you tried your best.”
Both girls, who said they hope to meet Augusta National member and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — “I really like how positive she is and I think that she’s a really good influence because she’s changed stuff,” said Kovelesky — qualified locally at Osprey Point in Boca and advanced to the finals from the regional at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. It will be the first time they and their parents have been to Augusta National.
“And we get to experience it together,” Bryant and Kovelesky said in unison.
“We’ve heard that the greens are really fast,” Bryant said.
“And I love it! I love fast greens!” Kovelesky said.
“Me, too,” Bryant said. “I do not like slow greens.”
Bryant was first in all three categories at TPC Sawgrass, but said she is probably best at putting. The third-grader, who first picked up a putter when she was 2, said she hits her drives 145-150 yards. Bryant, who has never had a lesson but has learned a lot from Kovelesky, said a good score for her from the ladies’ red tees at the two courses at Boca Woods is 79 or 80.
Kovelesky, whose parents, Tina and Rich, said she started playing golf with a plastic putter when she was 9 months old, averages 210 yards with her driver and can shoot 77 from the men’s white tees at her home courses.
She has a long list of tournament victories, including two U.S. Kids Golf world championships at Pinehurst in North Carolina and an IMG Academy Junior Worlds in San Diego. A little over a week ago she shot 81-79 to win the overall girl’s title by five shots in a South Florida PGA Challenge Tour event in Vero Beach that had players ages 13 to 18.
“Chloe works so hard at it every day, seven days a week,” said Brian Symonds of Winston Trails Golf Club in Lake Worth, who has taught Kovelesky for almost six years. “I’ve been very fortunate to have quite a few of these kids who turned out to be great players, but she has the potential to be one of the best ever: Because of her golf swing, because of her work ethic and because of her personality, how things just roll off her.
“You’re looking at a very special kid.”
Kovelesky’s parents don’t play golf, but Rich does help her, reminding her last week on the range to pause at the top of her backswing before she launches a drive.
Both of Bryant’s parents are recreational golfers. Her mother, Lisa, said they moved to Boca Woods nearly four years ago so their 5-year-old daughter could spend more time on her golf game. Kayla and Chloe, then 6, instantly became friends.
“They usually play together almost every Saturday and Sunday if they’re not in tournaments. Pushing their carts 18 holes,” Lisa Bryant said. “I think them wanting to make it together is what drove them both to making it to Augusta.”