Sunday July 14, 2013

Seven-year-old Max Shepardson's early love affair with golf is already paying dividends.

Max's parents, Nicole and Brian Shepardson, took him all the way to the Granite Links Golf Club in Quincy to take part in local qualifying for the new national Chip, Drive and Putt competition earlier this week. The youngster came home a winner.

Max took first place in the boys' age 7-9 division to earn a spot in the regional competition on Aug 12 at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth. The regional winner earns a dream trip to Augusta National Golf Club for the finals, which will be held on the Sunday prior to next year's Masters.

The new event, part of the ongoing effort to reinvigorate junior golf in the United States, was promoted during this year's Masters broadcasts and caught Brian and Nicole's attention.

"He has a passion for golf, so we put his name in," Nicole said. "We're really excited for him. It was very exciting to watch him win it."

With chipping and putting producing two-thirds of the points, Max's practice habits fit the format perfectly.

"He just loves to chip and putt and that served him well during the competition," Brian said.

After a third-place tie in driving -- he stripped a couple down the middle but topped his third, Dad said -- it was on to the chipping green.

"It was pretty straightforward, but the shot was downhill and greens were fast, which he isn't used to," said Brian, who is a member along with his wife and Max at Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club. "He did well and got two of his chips inside the bulls-eye."

"The greens were a lot faster than Cranwell," confirmed Max.

Though Max claimed he was nervous, he didn't show it during the putting competition.

"They all putted from 6, 15 and 30 feet," Brian said. "The boy before him missed from 6 feet and then he made both putts from 15 and 30 feet. Max just missed from 6 feet, made his 15 footer and left the 30-foot putt on the lip. It was impressive that he held it together after watching the other kid make his. Those putts weren't easy."

The two tied for first in the putting competition, with the tie broken in favor of his fellow competitor because he holed two of his. In the end, that didn't matter. When all the points were added up, Max's 96 won by eight points. A glance at the scores from other sites suggest that Max -- despite being two years younger than many in his division -- has a chance to fare well at the regional event.

"Yes, I'm very excited," answered Max, who understandably kept his answers short in his initial phone
interview.

The youngster's enthusiasm didn't abate on the ride back to the Berkshires.

"He insisted we eat on the deck at Cranwell when we got back so he could practice," Brian said.

That has become a family routine.

"We go for supper on the deck and then go play No. 2 and No. 3 or chip and putt," Brian said. "The people at Cranwell have been great to us They have been letting him play since he was 4. They have been very nice about it."

The Shepardsons, who live in Lenox, play golf as a family, though Mom says Max and his dad play together more often.

"I'm fortunate. As a teacher, we get to spend a lot of time together in the summer," Brian said. "Max loves all sports. He was going to a basketball camp this week, but had to miss a day for this trip. Right after school got out, he spent at week at Kay McMahon's golf camp. And he loves to go fishing."

But for the next month or so, other sports will likely take a back seat to pre-meal and post-meal practice sessions at Cranwell. And it will probably serve Max well that he has only a limited history with the Masters and
doesn't have the nerves of an adult.

If I had a chance to win a trip to Augusta National, I'd be lucky to keep my putts on the green.

To contact Richard Lord:
rlord@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6236.