Shelter Islander competes at Augusta — really

COURTESY PHOTO |  Brian Feinstein, and his father, Bob, last weekend at Augusta National Golf Club.
Brian Feinstein, and his father, Bob, last weekend at Augusta National Golf Club.

It’s April, and in the world of golf that means the Masters.

The annual Masters Golf Tournament is easily the most prestigious tournament on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) schedule. This invitation-only event played at Augusta National Golf Club every year since it was established in 1934, started Thursday, April 7, 2016.

What’s special for all Islanders this year is that one of our own, Brian Feinstein, competed on the hallowed Augusta National course.

Brian was there because three years ago, a joint initiative by the Masters Tournament, the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the PGA started a program to grow the game. That vision included a free, nationwide junior golf competition open to girls and boys between ages 7 to 15, focusing on three fundamental skills: drive, chip and putt.

This year, over 18,000 youngsters participated, competing through local, sub-regional and regional qualifications in hope of advancing to the National Finals, played on the Sunday before the Masters, April 3, at Augusta National. The finals teed off last Sunday morning and were broadcast live on the golf channel.

Of the 18,000 qualifiers, only 40 boys and 40 girls made it to the finals. Those 80 qualifiers represented 30 U.S. states and two Canadian Provinces. Besides the many celebrity players attending the festivities, the leaders of golf’s greatest organizations were present including Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters, Diana Murphy, president of the USGA, and Derek Sprague, president of the PGA.

Brian competed in the 14-to- 15-year-old group. Where most of us would be happy to get a ticket to the Masters, young Brian was actually hitting balls and putting on this celebrated course. As Billy Payne said in his opening speech, “No matter where you live the rest of your life, a picture of this day will always hang in your house.”

Brian is part of a family that has summered on the Island all of their lives. He is the son of Bob and Jen Feinstein, and the younger brother of Matthew, from McLean, Virginia and Silver Beach. Brian is also the nephew of the journalist and author, John Feinstein (the same John who believes he would have been a great golfer if only his golf pro had taught him to play his natural way, left handed).

I love junior golf, having coached and taught youngsters throughout my career, and since this tournament is all about juniors and growing the game, I never left the television set last Sunday morning.

Brian learned at Augusta that, just like everything in life, you don’t always keep winning. Although he was disappointed with a few shots he hit in the tournament, he must always remember that he was one of 10 players in his age group in the country taking part in 2016.

Sunday evening after the tournament I got a call from Brian and we spoke about this great experience. At age 14, he has done something every genuine golfer, including your columnist, would like to do — he hit shots at Augusta National, on TV, the day before the Masters while being watched by some of the greatest golfers in the world.

When I asked how things were conducted, Brian said the tournament was handled well, but also felt there was room for improvement, especially with an overabundance of rules. The tournament even asked the competitors to wear khaki slacks and blue shirts. He also felt it wouldn’t hurt to extend the practice time since the players were all so nervous. They only had 10 minutes to practice each contest before they were called on to perform.

As a gift, he and his sponsor (his father) were offered a ticket for the Monday practice round, so they stayed in Georgia an extra day. Since the final round of the Shell Houston Open was being played that Sunday in Texas, they didn’t have the opportunity to see many tour stars. They were satisfied, however, since they had a picture taken with Billy Payne, spent a little time with Tom Watson and saw Bubba Watson and Jason Day.

Brian and the more than 18,000 kids will be trying to make the trip again next year and we hope more juniors will get involved. If you’re interested, local qualifying rounds will be conducted throughout May, June, July and August at 253 sites in 50 states. Google “drive, chip and putt.” Maybe next year we will be doing this story on you or your child.

Congratulations, Brian. Remember, there will be many more victories before you are finished.