Markham golfer, 11, heads to Augusta National
Mia Wong competing in Drive, Chip and Putt Championship in Georgia ahead of the Masters Tournament
The picturesque greens of Georgia's Augusta National Golf Club are often trodden by the best players in the world.
Jack Nicklaus has won six Masters Tournament titles there. Canadian Mike Weir won the green jacket in 2003.
On Sunday, an 11-year-old from Markham will join their ranks.
Mia Wong earned a spot in this year's Drive, Chip and Putt Championship — a golf development competition for young people between the ages of 7 and 15 in the United States. Wong is one of 80 players who will get to compete at the prestigious club.
"I feel privileged," Wong told CBC Toronto. "Not a lot of girls get to go there and get to do the same things I get to do. It's pretty amazing."
Wong has been playing golf since she was eight years old. Her dad owns a golf academy and she attributed her growing interest in the sport to his passion.
"Dad would always watch the Masters and the U.S. Open," she said. "And yes, I had to sit there. Well, not had to — I actually was in the habit of sitting there and watching every time, so then I got into it."
Now she's in the dome practicing her swing almost every day — especially ahead of her biggest tournament yet.
The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship has three qualifying rounds. Wong competed in the first two stages at Buffalo's Fox Valley Country Club, earning her spot at the regional qualifier in New Jersey.
I just have to fight hard and do whatever I can do.- Mia Wong
The competition there was fierce, Wong said, but she went on to win that stage and was named a Drive, Chip and Putt finalist.
"Just being able to play on that course is amazing," she said.
But make no mistake — she's also there to compete.
"I want to win. I know it's going to be very tough — my dad has already told me that — but I just have to fight hard and do whatever I can do."
'She's a special kid'
Tiee Wong will be in Augusta to cheer Mia on both as her dad and her coach.
"I'm very excited — my wife and I are very proud," he said. "Her grandparents are through the moon. But we try to keep her grounded. To achieve so much success at such a young age can be a little overwhelming, and can also derail that success. But Mia — she's a special kid. She's a hard worker, and she's able to see the big picture."
Wong says it's pretty special to be able to share his passion for golf with his family. His daughter Giselle is also a big fan of the game.
"For every father to have their child follow them in their footsteps — or even share the same passion — it's a blessing. Now, not only do I get to do things I'm interested in, I get to share that as a family."
From a coach perspective, Wong says he's telling Mia to stay calm and treat the tournament just like everyday practice. As a dad, he says he just wants her to enjoy the experience.
The tournament will be broadcast live on the Golf Channel this Sunday.
With files from Taylor Simmons