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Once Drew O’Neal slammed the first of three drives into play, he wasn’t going to be stopped. Now, the 14-year-old son of Jody and Gena O’Neal, is headed to Atlanta next month.
Springboarded by an excellent showing in the driving competition, the first of three categories, O’Neal, a rising freshman at Beddingfield High, captured his second straight Drive Chip & Putt subregional at Duke University Golf Course last weekend. He also won at Duke last summer.
The top finish in a field of 18 local winners or runners-up qualifies O’Neal for another regional opportunity — this time at Atlanta Athletic Club on Sept. 8. He finished 10th in last year’s regional in foul weather in the Washington, D.C. area.
Regional champions advance into the national finals to be contested at famed Augusta National Golf Club, the week of the fabled Masters.
“I’m always scared I’m going to miss that first (drive),” O’Neal commented during a telephone interview Monday afternoon. “I felt I did really good because I didn’t think I was going to get the drives in. And I got all three in! I can do better with my chipping, but it worked out.”
Indeed, by amassing 59 points in driving, 40 in chipping and 60 in putting, O’Neal accumulated 159 points — eight more than last year — and dominated the boys Ages 14-15 division by 15 points against Simon Burgos of Raleigh, who registered scores of 57-27-60—144. Burgos also earned a regional berth.
Third was Noah Weyne of Wake Forest at 61-30-45—136, with Nate O’Neal, Drew’s twin brother, fourth at 36-35-60—131.
Drew O’Neal declared that, if his brother had not missed one of his drives, they would have finished in a deadlock.
Weyne and Nate O’Neal landed alternate status for the regional.
After the driving segment, Drew O’Neal trailed Weyne by two points. Although contending his chipping could have been better, Drew O’Neal seized the lead for keeps with his 40 points for chipping. For good measure, he sank his first putt of 6 feet.
The repeat champion remembered the Duke greens were “pretty fast” and, this time, was ready for the wind that was again blowing in his face. Drew compensated by allowing more width for his draw — a curving left-to-right tee shot.
“I’m kind of surprised,” Drew admitted of repeating as a subregional winner. “I did not think I was going to get my drives in.”
Now, Drew hopes last year’s experiences will boost him to a stronger regional showing. He will continue his usual preparation routine — hitting golf balls, chipping and putting at Wedgewood Public Golf Course.
“I’m going to go out there every day and try to get better,” the bespectacled left-hander pledged.
His father, an accomplished golfer and the golf coach at Beddingfield, is confident his son will be more comfortable at his second regional.
“The weather was just terrible last year,” Jody O’Neal reminded, “but Drew knows what to expect this time. He knows it’s going to be a big venue and I think he will be a little more calm.”
Of expectations, Drew notes: “The competition is a lot better. And I’ve got to get my drives in; last year, I got only one in. I hope I can win and go to the next round.”
Of the nationally recognized Drive Chip & Putt program, Drew responds: “It’s a lot of competition and you show all your shots. It’s just fun.”
Especially when that first drive lands inbounds.