Mass. girl set for national golf spotlightBy GREG SULLIVAN , Associated Press
Apr. 5, 2014 12:04 AM ET
FALL RIVER, Mass. (AP) — It's a fair indication Alexandra "A.J." Chicharro's golf career is headed in the right direction. She's 12 years old and this Sunday will be swinging her clubs at Augusta, Ga., National Golf Club.
Chicharro will be competing in the Professional Golf Association's Drive Chip & Putt National Finals, one week before the final round of The Masters at Augusta. She earned this legitimately prestigious honor by easily winning the New England Drive Chip & Putt Qualifier last August at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth.
In a major move to promote junior golf, the PGA is partnering with the United States Golf Association and Augusta National to stage Drive Chip & Putt, a skills contest. Eighty-eight golfers, divided into age and gender groups, have made it to Augusta. Chicharro is one of the 11 qualifiers in the girls' 12-13 age division.
A straight-A seventh-grader in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program at Fall River's Kuss Middle School, Chicharro admittedly has had to work harder than usual to focus during the school day recently. In addition to playing golf, she also enjoys watching the pros play on television, so she understands she is headed for one of golf's hallowed pieces of real estate.
"I am nervous, very nervous," said Chicharro, who aspires to a career as a professional golfer. "It's pretty much the place to golf, the place I want to be. It's definitely in my head. I think about it a lot, especially in school."
A fan of watching the Golf Channel, Chicharro this weekend instead will be a subject. The Golf Channel will be offering five hours of live Drive Chip & Putt coverage, including a pre-game show. Chicharro is scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m.
A member of the Fall River Country Club, Chicharro has already made a name for herself regionally, on both the PGA Junior golf tour and in the U.S. Challenge Cup. Last year, she tied for fourth place in the New England PGA Junior Tour rankings for her age group, even though she played in only seven events. The winner played in 15.
On the U.S. Challenge Cup, it's generally an open format, meaning Chicharro has played against foes much older than herself. Late in February at Swansea Country Club, she finished second to Megan Khang, who at 16 played in a U.S. Women's Open qualifier.
Chicharro's best 18-hole score is 77. She has shot 82 at FRCC, where she works with her primary teacher, assistant pro Tony DeQuattro. In one of the PGA Junior events (her age group plays 9 holes), she shot a 1-under-par.
Chicharro, also a fine swimmer and club soccer player, said she can regularly hit her drives 190 yards. And as her success in the Drive Chip & Putt indicates, she hits the ball straight. She considers putting her greatest strength.
At the New England Drive Chip & Putt New England championship last August, Chicharro was the top scorer in the driving and putting, and was second in the chipping, en route to an overall score of 112 points. Second-place Gabrielle Shieh of Carlisle scored 93.
The daughter of Diman Regional High School boys' soccer coach and automotive technology department head John Chicharro, A.J. sometimes uses Dad as her caddy. The PGA is footing the transportation and lodging bills for the duo's trip to the Nationals. Joined by A.J.'s mother, Susan, they leave Saturday morning. A.J. gets practice time at Augusta that afternoon.
While Chicharro is not counting on actually playing some or even one of the holes at Augusta, she will at least play on the famed 18th green, though she isn't sure if that will be for the chipping or putting.
The Chicharros plan to stick around Monday to watch the pros start their practice rounds for The Masters.