CHIPPEWA TWP. — For Nolan Haynes, the butterflies were there the first time he participated in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals.

Everything was so new for the then-9-year-old. The pageantry. The registration process. The interviews. The television cameras in his face. The mere fact that he was stepping onto the revered grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

The second time, at age 11, he was better prepared and relaxed, so much so that he almost overslept for the event.

And now, at age 14, on the eve of his third appearance and as a Drive, Chip & Putt veteran, he exudes only confidence.

"I know what the pressure will bring," the soft-spoken Barberton eighth-grader said this week as he practiced with his father, Todd Haynes, at Chippewa Golf Club. "There are no surprises for me. ... My goal is just to win it."

Nolan is the No. 1 rated junior golfer in Ohio for his age group, according to Junior Golf Scoreboard. He is one of 80 kids from the United States and Canada who will take part Sunday in the sixth annual competition, which kicks off the week of the Masters Tournament. He is one of just a few players who have participated three or more times.

He won a qualifying event in September at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, to return to the national stage after missing the finals the last two years. He punctuated his win by draining a 30-foot putt.

The Drive, Chip & Putt event, a partnership of the Masters Tournament, PGA of America and U.S. Golf Association, tests driving, chipping and putting accuracy, with each contestant getting two shots at each skill in the finals.

"So don't miss," Todd Haynes said.

Points are awarded and the player with the highest score wins. The players are divided by gender and age groups.

Nolan, who is sponsored and outfitted by Nike — as in he wears all Nike apparel supplied by the company — finished ninth his first year, and was runner-up in 2016, just one point behind the winner.

He is happy to be going back to the finals after his two-year absence. His family, including mother Tiffany and younger brother Maddux, are traveling to Georgia on Saturday to support him.

He is so confident in his ability that he's already talking about making his final appearance next year before he ages out of the competition, which is open to boys and girls ages 7 through 15.

Nolan, a slender 5-foot-11 and 125 pounds, owes his love of golf, and his smooth, consistent swing — at least the onset of it — to a video game. He played "Tiger Woods PGA Tour" on his Xbox growing up and mimicked Woods' swing.

He later worked with former Kent State University assistant golf coach Rob Wakeling to hone his skills and is now coached by Chris Lawson, the head professional at Fairlawn Country Club in Akron.

"Nolan is a tremendous talent," said Lawson, who is going to Augusta National to watch the competition. "He's unlike any other. When he hits a golf ball, it sounds different versus anybody else. It's pretty special."

Nolan has always loved golf, spending hours each day practicing. On Wednesday, he played 27 holes with his grandfather at Lyons Den Golf near Canal Fulton before heading to Chippewa to practice. Chippewa serves as his home course.

His low round is a 67, 5 under par.

Nolan is tough on himself. He missed several putts Wednesday at Chippewa as a Beacon Journal/Ohio.com photographer took his picture.

"I suck," he said as he gathered up the ball and headed to the driving range for more photos.

Asked about the weakest part of his game, Nolan hesitated. His father didn't.

Todd Haynes pointed to his son's head. Nolan has the physical skills. He doesn't miss fairways, pounding drives 260 to 270 yards. His irons are terrific. And he putts well. But it's the mental approach that he has to work on, his father said.

"The way he approaches golf, if he doesn't win or if he doesn't do well, he gets embarrassed," Todd Haynes said. "Is it a good trait-bad trait? I don't know. It's not great. For the last two years that he's missed, he's slightly embarrassed about it."

Nolan, while well-mannered, polite and reserved, demands much of himself and has a competitive fire that can be found in all great athletes across all sports, Lawson said.

"He's a perfectionist," he said. "Golf is a humbling sport. There are days that you are on and there are days that you're off."

Lawson said one of the biggest challenges is teaching Nolan the mental part of the sport and how to approach the game not as a 14-year-old, but as a seasoned veteran.

Nolan said he's looking forward to more than just the golf this weekend. There's another aspect of the trip he loves. The Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, where all the players stay, puts out a gigantic, kid-centric buffet.

He's ready to tackle the buffet, especially digging into some tacos.

Meanwhile, his father is hopeful that his son's name appears on the famous scoreboard that sits along the 18th hole. Only the winners get their names displayed on the board.

"To me, that's the best prize," Todd Haynes said. "Name the golfer. Nicklaus. Tiger. They've all been up on that scoreboard."

 

Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or rarmon@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.