WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

O’Neal set for Drive Chip & Putt regional qualifier

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He’s age 13, maybe 5 feet tall, tips the scales at perhaps 100 pounds and he’s taking his game out of town.

The bespectacled left-hander will be equipped with his driver, 58-degree wedge and black and white Odyssey putter for the most important opportunity of his young golf career.

He’ll be accompanied by both sets of grandparents, his parents and his twin brother, Nate.

He’s mapped his strategy and his confidence level has been hiked by sage advice from a grandfather.

Drew O’Neal, the son of Jody and Gena O’Neal of Wilson, is headed to famed Congressional Country Club near Bethesda, Maryland, to compete Sunday in a regional Drive Chip & Putt event.

The eighth-grader at Speight Middle School qualified by finishing second in local competition at Ironwood Country Club near Greenville and winning his SubRegional at Duke University Golf Club on August 18.

A top finish as one of 15 Ages 14-15 contestants will reward the O’Neal youth with a trip to Augusta, Georgia, to vie for the national championship at hallowed Augusta National, home of the Masters.

Yes, O’Neal is only 13 but his age group is determined by his age when the national event is contested in early April the Sunday before the week of the Masters. O’Neal observes his 14th birthday on Jan. 12.

“I don’t know how I feel,” O’Neal commented during an interview before a practice session earlier this week at Wedgewood Public Golf Course. “I’m not really scared. I am just excited since I get to go to Congressional. But I am a little bit nervous.”

Originated in 2013, Drive Chip & Putt is a joint initiative of the Masters tournament, the United States Golf Association and PGA of America. The competition is open free of charge to girls and boys ages 7-15 across the nation.

O’Neal debuted this summer.

“I wanted to do it and my dad signed me up,” he reasoned with a shrug.

Previously involved in baseball, basketball and soccer, O’Neal has turned his sports attention exclusively to golf and is coming off his first age-group championship in the Larry Pittman Memorial/Wilson County Junior Golf Championship.

As one of 14 Ages 14-15 contestants at Ironwood, O’Neal advanced with a second-place finish. He amassed 141 points --- 51 for his drive, 55 for his chips and 35 for his putts.

Next, he won the subregional with 151 points. O’Neal won the chipping competition with 50 points, placed second in putting with 55 points and collected 46 points for his drives.

At Congressional, O’Neal’s 14 opponents will include 6-foot-5 Tommy Morrison, who has already committed to play golf at Duke University. Keep in mind O’Neal’s height is a mere 5 feet but, in the subregional at Duke, O’Neal bested Morrison.

O’Neal will hit three drives, chip thrice and roll three putts. He’s most confident of his chipping.

“That’s the No. 1 thing I practice,” he reasoned.

He projects 155 points will afford him an opportunity to compete for national supremacy. That’s his goal.

“I want to come in first,” O’Neal declared. “I hope to win the chipping and putting and just do my best in the drive.”

The youngster estimates he can belt a drive a distance of 220 yards and his father adds: “He will be the shortest hitter.”

“And the shortest person,” Drew interjected.

“The key is hitting it straight on the drive,” Drew O’Neal continued.

Of the outlook for his son, Jody O’Neal, the golf coach and athletic director at Beddingfield High, said: “I wish him the best and want him to have a good time. If he can get his three drives in play, he’s got a chance in chipping and putting.”

And the youngster will be armed with the advice of his grandfather, Joel O’Neal.

“I don’t know much about Congressional,” Drew O’Neal admitted, “but I know the green is going to be fast. PaPa told me to practice putting on a hardwood floor.

“I told him I needed to make two putts and PaPa told me to just make one chip.”

The trip to Congressional on Sunday morning will likely follow a Chicago Cubs-Washington Nationals baseball game Saturday night.

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