Rock Hill 9-year-old to play Augusta National

bmccormick@heraldonline.comApril 4, 2014 

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    Watch Molly Hardwick live on Sunday

    The Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals will be broadcast live on The Golf Channel from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 6. Visit drivechipandputt.com for more information.

“White Doggy No. 2” and Molly Hardwick will take on Augusta National this Sunday.

Hardwick, a 9-year-old Rock Hill fourth grader, will compete in the national Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at the famed home of The Masters in Augusta, Ga. The event will be televised live on the Golf Channel from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Hardwick, who won a series of qualifiers to reach the national championship, is one of 11 qualifiers in the girls’ 7-9 age group, and one of 88 total qualifiers in different age groups from an original field of over 17,000 youth golfers nationwide.

Impressive for a young lady that began playing golf in the fall of 2012 and has a club cover on her driver called “White Doggy No. 2.”

To help keep Hardwick’s youth in perspective, consider the club cover, and that she also loves to read; Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Prairie are her favorites.

“I like the big chapter books,” she says, “because it takes you a long time to get through them.”

Competitive, but still every bit the 9-year-old girl, Hardwick wears a pink golf skirt and smiles every time older gentlemen come up to her at the Rock Hill Country Club Wednesday afternoon, asking “is this the famous Molly?” That happened about five times during a 30-minute stretch.

Hardwick’s parents, Jay and Lara Beth, got her “White Doggy No. 2,” as a reward for breaking 50 during a nine-hole round for the first time. White Doggy No. 1 is the stuffed animal she’s had since she was about a year old; White Doggy can now go everywhere with Hardwick on a golf course thanks to the proxy White Doggy No. 2. Her younger sister is allergic to real dogs, so White Doggies 1 and 2 are as good as it gets for the oldest of the three Hardwick girls.

Hidden somewhere beneath the American Girl persona is a cold-blooded winner. For a relative newcomer to the sport - almost every 9-year-old is - Hardwick has piled up trophies in a hurry.

She played in 13 competitive tournaments last season on the USA Kids Winter Tour, finishing with four wins, 12 total top-five finishes, and the Player of the Year award for girls ages 8 and 9.

Since that season ended March 15, Hardwick and her dad have been practicing for a couple of hours a day, six days a week for the last three weeks. It’s a big jump from this time a year ago when she was just getting going in the sport.

Jay Hardwick, who played a year of college golf at North Greenville, heard about the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship during The Masters last year. The event was started by the USGA and PGA as a way to get new young players involved in the game. Last June, Hardwick took his daughter to a local qualifier at Wilmington Island Golf Club in Savannah, Ga., which she won by almost 40 points. The success caught the two off guard.

“We just said ‘we’re gonna have fun, great experience,’ and then I won,” said Molly, beaming.

And then she won again. Hardwick claimed the regional qualifier at Atlanta Athletic Club in August with the help of a 15 to 20-yard holed chip on the penultimate shot of the competition. That qualified her for the national championship in Augusta this weekend.

“I got really, really excited,” said Hardwick, who got really, really excited as she relived the clutch shot.

The experience has been a bit of a whirlwind, like a golf ball lipping around the cup at top speed. Jay Hardwick, the pastor at North Rock Hill Church, is intent on keeping the focus on his daughter’s enjoyment of the competition and not on racking up trophies or air time on the Golf Channel.

“The minute she decides she doesn’t like all the competitive stuff and the tournaments, just tell me and we’re done,” he said Wednesday. “As long as she loves it we’ll do it.”

So far, she loves it. The father and daughter have bonded even closer over history lessons on Augusta National, Bobby Jones and The Masters. That’s been necessary because, after all, Hardwick is just a 9-year-old girl. Can she possibly understand the opportunity she has this weekend?

“The Masters is a big deal at our house. It’s kind of almost a holiday on our schedule,” said Jay Hardwick. “She’s heard about The Masters, but obviously it takes on a different significance when you know you’re going to go to Augusta National and not just to watch, but you’re gonna get to compete. We’ve talked a lot about that. I think she understands a little bit, but I imagine all of us are gonna have a whole different understanding once we get there.”

Hardwick’s excitement was evident. She said she’s been able to sleep this week, “but barely.”

“All of my dreams have been about Augusta National.”

Bret McCormick •  803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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