WEST POINT – They call her the “Queen.”
Her name is Emerson Blair. She lives in West Point. She’s a 9-year-old golfer. With one swing, she can drive a golf ball 150 to 160 yards.
And she’s one of the best golfers in the U.S. in her age group.
On Sunday, Emerson will be one of 10 golfers taking part in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, a nationwide junior skills competition open to boys and girls ages 7 to 15.
The competition — broadcast on live T.V. — takes place each year at Augusta National Golf Club’s 18th hole, the same one professional golfers like Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson will play on during the Master’s Tournament, which starts next Thursday.
Emerson is the only golfer from Mississippi in the competition.
Tim Yelverton, a golf instructor at Old Waverly Golf Club in West Point, has worked with Emerson since she started golfing five years ago. Emerson gained her nickname — “Queen” — during those early lessons, which were part of a golf learning game Yelverton taught with fellow instructor V.J. Trolio.
“We gave her the nickname ‘Queen’ because she was a 4-year-old girl with a bunch of boys and we told all the boys they need to treat her like a queen,” Yelverton said. “She jumped right in the middle of it and she’s done an awesome job.”
The Blair family lives next to Old Waverly, and Key Blair, who is Emerson’s father, said the sport’s a favorite pastime of his. He said it’s thrilling — “more fun that playing golf myself” — to see Emerson take to the sport as she has and perform so well. He caddies for her when she plays tournaments.
“She just got a little better each year,” Key said. “Now she’s playing in tournaments and we’re traveling all over.”
Emerson’s played in tournaments for three years. In the past year, Key said she’s won 12 or 13 and has finished second in several more. Her tournaments have taken the Blairs all over the country, including New Jersey, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, Florida and Georgia.
Sandi Blair, Emerson’s mother, said it’s been fulfilling to watch Emerson grow as a golfer.
“We’re proud of her and it’s amazing every time that I watch her play,” Sandi said. “It’s just unbelievable to be 9 and she hits the ball so assuredly.”
Emerson said she loves going to tournaments.
“I like getting to compete and making new friends,” she said.
Key said the strength of Old Waverly’s junior programs have been a big help for Emerson. He said it’s important not only that she’s having success that, but that other kids in the program are succeeding.
“She gets to see the older kids win and have success,” Key said. “That pushes her to try to have success.”
Yelverton said it’s rewarding to see Emerson’s hard work paying off. Emerson’s drive is probably the most impressive part of her game for her age.
“She has a very good disposition for golf,” Yelverton said. “She’s very calm. She hits the golf ball a really long way, which helps, so her length is one of her greatest assets. She’s been working really hard on some of her putting and chipping recently and that’s why you’re starting to see some of her scores really getting better.”
He also credited Emerson’s parents for her success.
“Any time you see a junior golfer succeed, you know that their parents are behind them,” Yelverton said. “As a coach you can only do so much because you have a limited amount of time with them. So any time you have a child succeed in golf or any other sport, you know they have good parents behind them who are reinforcing the things that it takes to become a good athlete at any level.”
Mississippi’s only participant
Eighty children, ages 7-15, will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship, which was founded by the U.S. Golf Association, the Masters Tournament and the PGA of America.
The competition is divided between boys and girls and broken into four age groups, each with 10 contestants. Emerson will compete in the girls 7- to 9-year-old group.
Golfers have to advance through local, sub-regional and regional qualifiers in order to reach the championship.
The Drive, Chip and Putt Championship will air live on the Golf Channel beginning at 8 a.m. Sunday.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.
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