HONOLULU (KHON2) — Twelve-year-old Leo Saito and 11-year-old Neal Manutai are about to do what almost every golfer can only dream of.
Tee it up at Augusta National — the two are among 80 players, 40 boys and 40 girls in four age divisions, who have qualified for the annual Drive Chip & Putt competition.
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For Hilo boy Saito, it’s a hana hou appearance after qualifying last year as well.
“It feels great. Not everyone gets to go there so I’m very excited to play there,” said Saito. “I was very excited the first time going to Georgia, especially Augusta snow I know more about that place so it will be fun”
Last year Saito finished third overall in his age group competing against older players.
But for this year, “Hopefully win. I’m in the younger age so hopefully take advantage of it but I’ll try my best to get first,” said Saito.
Saito won’t be alone in representing Hawaii since Manutai of Laie also earned a slot in the competition.
“It’s always been my dream,” said Manutai. “It’s my dad’s dream, my papa’s dream to go there because I’ve always watched the masters since I was a little kid. Watching the pros play. It’s going to be a real great experience to be there.”
And while it’s Manutai’s first trip to Augusta he does have someone to get some inside scoops from — his uncle Tony. As in Professional Golfers’ Association of America Tour player Tony Finau who’s already notched three top 10 finishes at Augusta.
“I’ve heard from him how the greens are really fast. I’m preparing for that to know how hard or how soft to hit it.”
Regardless of what happens tomorrow both young players, as well as their families, are beyond excited. Knowing they’ll experience firsthand what only a chosen few will ever enjoy.
“It’s very nice,” said Saito. “On Monday I get to walk the course and watch the players play a practice round so that will be exciting.”
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Manutai agreed, “It’s always been my dream going over there Augusta. Someday I might even play over there when I’m older.”