PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – There are a lot of people who would give just about anything to tee it up at Augusta National. A fourth-grader from our area gets to do that this weekend.
Ellie Benson started playing golf when she was just 4 years old. Her father gave her a set of kids clubs. He took her to the driving range the next year after she had been working on her swing in the back yard. Now, Ellie is a finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition — and will compete at the home of The Masters over the weekend.
KDKA-TV’s Rick Dayton met Ellie and her parents, Lisa and Kirk, at Hickory Heights Golf Club in South Fayette to talk about her love for the game.
Ellie admits she still gets nervous when she plays golf and says it is worse when there are lot of people around.
“If a lot of people are watching me, sometimes.” And she contends it is more difficult during competition, “Like at the regionals, I was really nervous.”
But, the young lady played well enough at the local and regional competitions to make it to Augusta National. She will be there this weekend, just one week before the pros descend on the famed Georgia landscape for golf’s first major championship of the year.
Ellie can tell you who has won at Augusta and has one of the famed green jackets.
“Jack Nicklaus. Jordan Speith,” She paused for a second, and then like any good Pittsburgher said, “And of course, Arnie Palmer.”
The Latrobe native won four times at Augusta.
Kirk Benson admits he really didn’t start playing much golf until he was in his 20s, but his daughter gravitated to the game by watching golf on TV with him when she was just 2. So, a couple years later, he bought her first set of clubs.
“She was probably 5 or 6 when we went out to the driving range. It made it easier for her to see where they were going and stuff like that,” he said.
Then, it was time to take her love of the game to the golf course for the first time.
She remembers how it was a humbling experience.
“It was way harder. I started out with a 9, a 10. And then I started getting the hang of it and I started playing a little bit better. I got some 7s and 8s I think,” she said.
A few short years later, she is a finalist in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. It is like the Punt, Pass and Kick competition that football players enjoy — but for golf.
The soon-to-be 9-year-old Ellie says driving is the best part of her game. She says she still has some work to do on her putting. Yet, she has done well enough to hop on a flight headed for the sunny south.
Despite all the putts she sinks, her mom Lisa isn’t sure the reality of the situation has sunk in just yet.
“She knows it is coming, but I don’t think the magnitude of it has hit her just yet until she is maybe going down Magnolia Lane and sees all that,” she said.
Golf Channel will air the championship finals live Easter morning at 8 a.m. As for Ellie, she says she is just going to stick to her pre-shot routine and let it fly.
“I am just thinking about where my target is and I think about the littlest spot out in front of me that I want to aim my club at so the ball goes straight,” Ellie said.
That thinking has worked well enough to get her to Augusta National as a fourth-grader. It is going to be fun to see where it takes her next.