published Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Cleveland middle-schooler to putt Augusta's 18th green in national championship

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    Golfer Rheagan Hall
    Photo by Doug Strickland.
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Cleveland Country Club general manager Lamar Mills presented Rheagan Hall with a golf bag sporting the club's logo on the side.

He told her that the logo has never been inside the ropes at Augusta National Golf Club.

She'll be carrying it on Sunday.

Hall, an eighth-grader at Cleveland Middle School, is one of 11 girls in her age group from across the country to earn an invitation the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship finals to be held on the Masters Tournament practice facility and the famed 18th green where greats of the game have etched chapters of golf history.

"I'm excited, but I'm not nervous," she said during a practice session on Wednesday. "I'm not going to freak out."

After all she's been to the Masters. She watched Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player hit the ceremonial tee shot last year.

But she hasn't been down Magnolia Lane. She hasn't been in the clubhouse. She hasn't stood, let alone putted, on the 18th green.

She'll do all of that this weekend.

"Even if I finish 11th out of 11 -- which I pray doesn't happen -- I'm going to enjoy every moment of," Hall said. "My dad [Mack] is even more excited. He's super-psyched for me to have this opportunity."

Mack Hall will have an up-close view and essentially act as a caddie for Hall during the competition. Her mother, Karen, and brother, Tripp, will have close access. And about 20 other friends and family members will be members of the gallery. Everybody else will have to watch the live action on the Golf Channel.

"My goal for her would have been to finish in the top five of the regional finals in Atlanta," Karen Hall said of the competition held at the Atlanta Athletic Club in August. "She was the first to play. We had to wait for everybody else to finish. Scores kept getting posted and that stinker-doodle ended up being on top."

Hall posted the highest total of the day with 146 points and won by 33 points.

"My game plan," Hall said, "is to kick butt."

The national Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, is backed by the Masters Tournament Foundation, the USGA and the PGA of America. More than 25,000 golfers attempted get through the three stages of qualifying. There are 88 who did. Hall is one.

All expenses are paid. Players and their families will spend three nights in the Augusta Marriott. They'll have registration and reception on Saturday afternoon followed by a coat-and-tie dinner. The players will have lunch in the Founders Room inside the Augusta National clubhouse. And each player receives four passes to the Monday practice round.

That's a dream come true for any golfer or golf fan.

"I thought of calling the Halls and asking if I could be part of their family," said Dori Paschall, who has known Hall for at least three years in her roles working for the Tennessee Golf Association. "I'm glad she's getting to do this because she embodies what you want to represent Chattanooga and Tennessee."

Hall's paper invitation is on the front page of a scrapbook that her mother began last fall. Her idea began with getting friends and family to write short "Good-luck" notes and keep the project a secret. Then the idea expanded.

The end result is simply impressive.

After Mills presented Hall with her CCC golf bag, her mother presented the scrapbook to her daughter.

"Mom came out and said, 'We're proud of you, and so are about 200 other people,'" Hall said. "I thought it was cool when I started flipping through it. Oh, friends and family. Then I hit the middle page."

In the centerfold resides the following: A note from Palmer, a note from Nicklaus, a note from Player -- the three legends she saw last year -- plus a note from Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and one from 10-time major champion Annika Sorenstam.

It was all a secret.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity," Karen Hall said. "But she won't remember every shot or chip or putt. So what could I do to make it a life-long experience for her?"

Hall continued flipping pages of her book. She found notes of encouragement and autographs from incredible people in and out of golf. Brandt Snedeker, Stewart Cink, Phil Mickelson, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler, Stacey Lewis, Lizette Salas, Lexi Thompson, Brittany Lincicome, Angela Stanford, Kari Webb and Chattanooga's Brooke Pancake -- plus other golfers.

"Gary Player was the first to respond, and Rickie Fowler was the last," Mack Hall said. "We had to add his to back page. But that's a great way to start, and a great way to end."

The list of other respondents outside of golf is equally incredible: Former presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, as well as Pat Summit, Mike Krzyzewski, Shaquille O'Neal, Peyton Manning, Michael Jordan and Donald Trump.

Hall's favorite page is an autographed 8-by-11 picture of the stars of the television show "Duck Dynasty." Hall is an avid deer and turkey hunter and prefers a muzzle-loader even in rifle season.

Camouflage is quite a contrast from a golf shirt and golf skirt.

"In hunting I like the adrenaline," Hall said. "In golf, when you're in pressure situations you get your adrenaline going."

Hall will have her adrenaline going on Sunday. She'll be wearing the Georgia Regional team's red shirt instead of camouflage. She's comfortable in both outfits.

"I had a .243, and I was deadly with that thing," Hall said. "I could drop a deer in a snap."

But not this weekend. She'll be dropping putts, on Sunday, at Augusta National.

Her mom had better take a picture for the scrapbook.

Contact David Uchiyama at duchiyama@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6484. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/UchiyamaCTFP.

about David Uchiyama...

David Uchiyama is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who began his tenure here in May 2001. His primary beats are UTC athletics — specifically men’s basketball and athletic department administration — and golf, which includes coverage from the PGA Tour to youth events. He also covers other high school sports, outdoor adventures, and contributes to other sections of the newspaper when necessary. David grew up in Salinas, Calif., and began working ...

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