Daniel Uranga is in a difficult spot for any 14-year-old boy.
He’s indebted to his little sister.
Uranga, of Homedale, will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship finals Sunday at Augusta National Golf Club — a third-year event that marks the beginning of Masters week at the famed golf course.
And he wouldn’t be going if not for his 11-year-old sister.
“My sister tells me that all the time,” he said.
Uranga finished fourth in his age group in the local qualifier for the event last summer. The top three advanced to the subregional in Utah.
His sister Tea, though, won her qualifier. So when one of the qualifiers withdrew from the subregional because of a scheduling conflict, Uranga’s family already had plans to be there. He was moved into the field as an alternate.
“If she wouldn’t have been there, he wouldn’t have been there,” said Tony Uranga, Daniel and Tea’s father.
And now the whole family, including mom Jennifer and Tony’s parents, is headed for Augusta, Ga. They leave Friday. Uranga gets to practice at a nearby course Saturday, compete on live TV (Golf Channel) on Sunday morning and attend a Masters practice round Monday. The family is adding a few days in Orlando, Fla., on the back end of the trip.
Uranga qualified by finishing second in the boys 14-15 age group at that Utah subregional (the top two advanced) and winning the regional at Chambers Bay in Washington, the host of last year’s U.S. Open. Only the age-group winners advance from the 10 regional sites.
Uranga also reached the regional round in 2014, but he struggled. The regionals are the summer before the finals, so he has known for more than six months that he’s headed to Augusta.
“Going into the regionals, I didn’t really think I would win,” Uranga said Monday after an evening range bucket at River Bend Golf Course. “Now I’m starting to feel a little bit nervous. Once I start, it will go away.”
Uranga is the first Idahoan to reach the finals at Augusta. His cousin told him he gets to experience “golf heaven.”
“It’s pretty special,” Uranga said. “I feel really honored to kind of represent the region.”
Uranga began competing in golf when he was 10. He has been joining his dad on the course since he was 5 or 6. They still joke about the times Tony lied about his son’s age to get on a local course that had an age minimum.
Daniel and Tea work with pro T.J. Gomez at Desert Canyon Golf Course in Mountain Home. They often visit him on Fridays, when the Homedale schools don’t have class. Gomez worked Uranga through driving, chipping and putting drills last Friday — including hitting putts with his eyes closed and hitting chips of various carry distances.
But Uranga, who is in eighth grade, isn’t a one-sport kid. He plays football, basketball and baseball, too.
“He’s super talented,” Gomez said. “He’s got really good hands. Through his other sports, I think that’s probably helped him. He’s got great hand-eye coordination. With the three contests (drive, chip and putt), they play right into his wheelhouse.”
In the local/regional rounds, players hit three shots in each skill area. They receive points based on distance for each drive that finishes inside the 40-yard fairway and points for proximity to the hole for each chip and putt. The chips are from 10 to 15 yards. The putts are from 6, 15 and 30 feet.
At Augusta, players get two drives and use the longest one that is within the fairway. They’re ranked from 1 to 10. They hit two chips and record their cumulative distance from the hole and are ranked from 1 to 10. They hit two putts, record the cumulative distance and are ranked from 1 to 10. Winners are named for each of the three contests and overall.
At least some of the putting at the championship finals is held on the 18th green at Augusta National.
“I’m not expecting I should win,” Uranga said. “I think if I play well, I could win.”
Either way, the family plans to soak up the experience.
“When it happened, when he found out he won, he was very, very happy,” Tony said. “It feels great to see your kid happy and having success.”
Idaho’s 2017 qualifier
The Idaho qualifier for the 2017 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship is June 8 at Ridgecrest Golf Club in Nampa. It’s open to boys and girls ages 7 to 15 (based on age on April 2, 2017). Entries are free. Subregionals will be held in July and August. Regionals will be held at 10 sites in September, with the winners advancing to the championship finals April 2, 2017, at Augusta National Golf Club.
Watch Daniel Uranga on Golf Channel
The Golf Channel will air live coverage of the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship beginning with a pregame show at 6 a.m. MT Sunday. The competition airs from 7 to 11 a.m. Uranga is in the boys 14-15 age group.