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Who was more nervous at the first Drive, Chip and Putt Championship: The participants or the parents?

By Ryan Herrington

AUGUSTA, GA. -- The inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National Golf Club had a little bit of everything: high 5s, fist pumps, cheers.

And that was just by the crowds.

For as exciting a morning as it was for the 88 boys and girls competing Sunday, it was equally emotional for friends and family watching them make history as the first-ever competitors in the event. The rhetorical question bandied about among those outside the ropes was who was more nervous out there, the participants or the parents?

"Watching my son, standing on the 18th green, lining up that putt, I was getting choked up," said Dudley Stephen of Atlanta, whose 9-year-old boy, Edward, was competing. "This is one of the most incredible things in his life, but it's also one of the most incredible in mine."

Co-organized by Augusta National, the USGA and the PGA of America, the championship crowned boys and girls champions in four age groups, the eight overall winners treated as if they had won the tournament that will wrap up here next Sunday. (What's the name of that one? Oh yeah, the Masters.)

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Most of the kids admitted to first-tee jitters as they began the competition on Augusta National's driving range. "I felt like my heart stopped out there," said Leo Cheng of Northridge, Calif., the eventual champion in the boys 10-11 group. "Some serious nerves going."

By the time they ventured over to the chipping area and then on to the practice putting green -- ultimately finishing up with a 15-foot putt on the 18th hole -- most had settled into competition mode. Some became so focused they didn't even notice that several professionals in the Masters field were catching some of the action before they started their Sunday practice round.

"Yeah, I've never had Fred Couples watching me putt before," said Natalie Pietromonaco of Auburn, Calif., winner of the girls 12-13 group. "So that was a new experience."

Past Masters champions Mark O'Meara, Zach Johnson and Adam Scott also took time to watch the young participants enjoy the limelight.

"It's pretty cool," Watson said. "What a thrill it has to be for them to be out here."

Lucy Li, 11, of Redwood City, Calif., has experience playing in big events, having become the youngest person to play in the U.S. Women's Amateur last August. After claiming the girls 10-11 title, however, she said the Drive, Chip and Putt experience was both the more exciting and more nerve-wracking.

"This is Augusta National," Li said matter of factly. "Everybody knows about this place. I had friends back home who were watching. This is like a big deal."

loop-dcp-cheng-fist-pump-300.jpgOthers echoed her enthusiasm. To win his age group, Cheng rolled in his putt on the 18th hole, taken from roughly the same spot as Scott holed his birdie putt on the 72nd hole a year ago. As the putt disappeared, Cheng (right) lifted his putter high in the air and gave a hearty fist pump. "It was so cool," Cheng said. "I mean, I felt like I was Adam Scott out there."

"It's the best day of my life," said Kelly Xu, a 9-year-old from Santa Monica, Calif., who won the girls 7-9 group.

In some respects the same could be said for Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, one of the driving forces behind the competition. Payne's genuine interest in increasing the number of young people coming to the game was the overriding reason he helped green light the event and is already looking forward to next year's championship, with registration for the 2015 edition having just opened.

"The way we're going to measure this isn't how well these players do in the future," Payne said, "but how many kids they help bring to golf."

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