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A Trip off the old block

Lessons learned paying off for Sanders

Posted: September 15, 2015 11:43 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I photo/

TRIP SANDERS WORKS with the pitching wedge in preparation for this weekend’s competition at the Congressional Country Club.

As he has grown up, William “Trip” Sanders has outgrown that plastic set of golf clubs and the plastic balls which he used to hit when he was two years old. Good thing, since such equipment is probably frowned upon at Congressional Country Club and, most assuredly, Augusta National.

With his eye on a chance at competing at the latter next spring, Sanders will take his driver, a pitching wedge and a putter to the Congressional Country Club in suburban Washington, D.C., this weekend to compete in the regional qualifier of the PGA Tour’s Drive, Chip and Putt Regional Championship. A top-two finish in the 14-15-year-old portion of the event will land him a spot in the national championship to be played at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday, April 3, 2016, the start of Masters Week.

The chance to play on the venerable Augusta course is pretty heady stuff. It would be a dream come true for any golfer, professional or amateur, never mind a 13-year-old eighth grader from Camden Middle School. But Sanders believes he has a shot at being driven down Magnolia Lane to the main gates of Augusta National come next spring.

“I have to do pretty good on this one to go to that one,” he said of Sunday’s qualifier at Congressional, to be played on the day Sanders will turn 14. “I think there’s a pretty good chance I could do that (qualify for Augusta) if I drive, chip and putt well.”

It all sounds so easy when you think about it: A chance to play Augusta National if you can drive the ball long and straight, chip close to your target and knock home a trio of straight putts. Through two qualifying rounds of the competition, Sanders has been on the mark in all three disciplines.

For the driving portion of the event, players line up and hit three shots onto a 40-yard wide fairway. Only balls which land in the fairway are counted. The chipping portion has each golfer attempting three shots from 10 to 15 yards away at the scoring hole with all shots being measured by their proximity to the target. Putting requires young golfers to attempt one putt each  from six, 15 and 20 feet away. Points are awarded from one to 25 in all three events.

Sanders’ journey started on July 21 when he played in a local qualifier at the Legends Resort in Myrtle Beach. He won the chipping portion of the competition and was second in driving and putting to finish second overall in his age group and punch his ticket to the sub-regional qualifier at the Fort Jackson Golf Club on Aug. 29.

At Fort Jackson, Sanders scored a 69 (out of a possible 75 points) on his drives, a 36 on his three chips and a 37 on three putts for a winning total of 142 points which was tops among all entrants and earned him the trip to Congressional.

“I was pretty confident,” Sanders said of his mindset heading into the Fort Jackson sub-regional. “Putting’s the toughest but I did pretty good. The speed of the greens was hard. The greens were hard. They were like glass; they were fast.”

A member of the Camden High varsity golf team as a seventh-grader last spring, Sanders has always been able to drive the ball. He is hitting balls approaching 300 yards off the tee and the ability to hit them in the fairway does not hurt in this type of competition.

“It was a big change for me,” he said of playing on team and, sometimes going up against fellow players who were as many as six years older than him. “I had to get my mind into the game more.” 

At season’s end the two areas he wanted to improve on were, ironically, his chipping and putting. Constant hours of practice seem to have remedied those nagging parts of his game.

“I wanted to improve more,” Sanders said when asked what he took from his first season of high school competition. He added that he will practice for two and a half hours each day that his schedule and the weather will allow at the Camden Country Club. 

In the days leading up to his trip to Congressional, Sanders is at the golf course every day after school working on all parts of his game while concentrating with the three areas which, he hopes, will send him to Augusta.

“I start off with chipping, driving, putting and then I’ll go out and play some holes,” he said of his routine. “I’ll work on the one I need the most work on. I probably need to work on my putting more right now.”

As strange as it may sound, at 13 years and 360 days old, Trip Sanders is a golf veteran. He was taught the game by his father, William “Shane” Sanders Jr., and his grandfather, William Sanders Sr., both of Camden. The two men did not wait long before putting a golf club in Trip’s young hands.

“When I was about two years old,” he said, “I played with plastic clubs. Then, when I was about six, I played with real clubs. When I was six years old when my dad and my grandpa would play golf with me.”

The game, Trip said, came naturally to him and he never got discouraged. Hitting from the number one tees, driving the ball was the best part of his game even though he admits he did have a bit of a problem in shanking his drives. Over the years, as he has continued to grow and play more, the other parts of his game starting rounding into form. Now, he hopes everything will come together on Sunday with a trip to Augusta National on the line.

For many a golfer, that prospect might cause them to have a case of the yips or, go knock-kneed. Not so for Trip Sanders who is approaching Sunday’s competition as another day on the golf course doing what he enjoys.

“Not really,” he answered when asked if he was nervous about the event at Congressional. “I just go and play my game.”

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