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The big stage

Baylee Hammericksen is becoming a regular at Augusta National Golf Club.

The Medford teenager is making her second trip in a year to the hallowed grounds.

This time, however, the 14-year-old St. Mary’s eighth-grader is there to compete.

Hammericksen qualified last September for the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals. She will be one of 10 girls in the 14-15 age division vying for a championship in the nationally televised event at the site of the Masters, the first major of the PGA season.

Her competition is Sunday and will be aired on the Golf Channel, beginning at 5 a.m. PDT. Masters week begins the next day.

Hammericksen’s group will be the last one to compete, starting at 8 a.m. As the West Coast representative, out of The Olympic Club in San Francisco, where she qualified, Hammericksen will be wearing all white — hat, jacket, shirt.

A year ago, the Hammericksens — father Jamie, who coaches the South Medford boys team; mother Kirsten and daughters Baylee and Riley — obtained tickets to Wednesday’s practice round for the Masters.

The whole family is going this weekend, but Baylee and Jamie, as the designated chaperone, will have players’ pins, providing access reserved for a precious few: They’ll eat in the clubhouse and be allowed inside the ropes.

“We have access to things we didn’t have access to last year,” said Baylee. “It’s almost like we’re seeing a whole different Augusta. I’m really excited.”

They flew out today. On Saturday, Baylee will practice on a nearby course with greens similar to Augusta's and attend a banquet for the players that night. Typically, a past Masters champion addresses the kids, she said.

After the competition Sunday, there will be a pizza party, and on Monday, they have tickets to the Masters practice round.

Once she qualified last fall, Hammericksen thought, “Oh my gosh, it’s never going to get here.”

Recently, it’s been, “No, stop, stop, stop, it’s too fast,” she said.

Hammericksen has won numerous junior championships over the years. She and her younger sister entered the Drive, Chip and Putt, she said, as a fun change of pace from the tournament structure. Baylee won local and subregional events to get to the regionals.

Once there, Jamie got Baylee to relax by reminding her she’d already been to the Augusta. Her opponents were still trying to get there.

“So just loosen up, make your swing and go do what you do best,” Baylee said, recalling his advice. “I felt like that got me really relaxed, and when I’m relaxed, I’m a better golfer.”

Normally, she said, before a big competition, she’s nervous as the anticipation builds, but it subsides on game day.

“Once I’m on the site, it’ll be fine,” she said.

“Competing with a clear mind is a lot easier than competing with a mind that’s a nervous wreck.”

She’s been diligent in her preparation, but not consumed by it.

Since last fall, the driving, chipping and putting practice has shared time with other disciplines, like bunker and iron play.

Only this week during spring break did she zero in on the big three. She went to the practice facilities at Rogue Valley Country Club two or three times a day, spending a half hour on each area.

“I’d come back a couple times a day and really get it into my muscle memory,” said Hammericksen. “That’s what worked for me last time, so I’m doing it again. I don’t think it’ll fail me now.”’

She also didn’t neglect other areas of her game because she had her first Oregon Golf Association junior tournament of the year on Monday. At Portland Golf Club and in difficult conditions, she shot a 2-over-par 75 and won her division by five strokes.

It took her mind off Augusta, however briefly, and allowed her to reboot.

“I got my brain in competition mode and started to get myself geared up for what I’m going to experience at Augusta,” she said. “My mind has a refresh for what it’s like to be in competition mode. I feel like that’s really going to help me once I’m there.”

She’s confident in all the shots.

At nationals, the winner of each phase gets 10 points, second place nine, etc.

They will have two balls to hit in each, different from the three in preliminary qualifiers.

At the regional, Hammericksen hit her three drives between 200 and 206 yards, all within the designated 40-yard quadrant. On Sunday, the players will do that on the Augusta driving range.

For chipping, they’ll hit to rings around a hole, points increasing as the circles get smaller.

For putting, they’ll hit putts of 6 and 20 feet, said Hammericksen.

That will be particularly exciting. Putting is her favorite aspect, and the players will putt on Augusta’s 18th green, using the Sunday pin placement.

“That’s a historic pin placement and I love putting, so that’s just like my dream come true,” said Hammericksen.

It will be difficult enough for the pros a week later, let alone for the kids.

“It’s not easy,” she said, “but once you get to a national level, it’s not supposed to be.”

Last year’s winner in the girls 14-15 division was Alyssa Montgomery of Knoxville, Tennessee. She scored 26.5 points, 3.5 ahead of runner-up Skylar Thompson of Buford, Georgia.

Hammericksen would cherish similar success.

“Just getting there is amazing enough,” she said, “but going there and doing well would be like the cherry on top of the cake.”

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com

Baylee Hammericksen, an eighth-grader at St. Mary's, sinks a putt during practice at Rogue Valley Country Club on Thursday. She will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday. [JAMIE LUSCH/MAIL TRIBUNE]