Morgan Guepet takes her best shot at Drive, Chip, Putt Championship _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SHERRI MILLER -- Morgan Guepet practices her drive at Lakewood Golf Club in New Orleans in March. Morgan will be competing in the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship on April 3 at Augusta National Golf Club.

Last April, Stephen Guepet took his daughter, Morgan, to the Monday practice round for the Masters tournament.

They just went as spectators, taking in the watercolor beauty of Amen Corner and delighting at watching golfers try to skip tee shots across the pond on the par-3 16th. As they did, people kept coming up to them and asking if Morgan was as competitor — not in the Masters, of course, but in the previous day’s youth Drive, Chip & Putt Championship.

“We didn’t even know what the heck was going on,” Stephen Guepet said.

They know now. Soon after they returned, Leah Guepet entered their daughter in the qualifying for this year’s championship. Sunday, Morgan is going back to the home of the Masters, trying to capture her own piece of history by becoming the first golfer from Louisiana to win a competition at hallowed Augusta National Golf Club.

Coverage of the event begins at 8 a.m. CDT on the Golf Channel.

In many ways, Morgan is a typical 10-year-old girl, with masses of wavy dark hair framing her freckle-filled cheeks.

The fourth-grader is in a French immersion program at her New Orleans school, and she’s proud of her Eiffel Tower ear rings. If she wins a big tournament this summer in Pinehurst, North Carolina, she said her father has promised her a trip to Paris.

“Or buy me a pig,” she said. “They’re so cute.”

When it comes to golf, Morgan is all business. After school, she’s often found at the redesigned Lakewood Golf Club — in a past life the club in the Algiers section of town was home to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans — and she is there virtually all day in summer.

“You won’t meet a more dedicated young athlete,” Stephen Guepet said. “Every day in the summer she gets dropped off (at Lakewood) at 7:30, stays till 1 or 2 o’clock in the heat, every day, by choice.

“At Lakewood they all kind of pitch in and watch her. We couldn’t do this without their help. They overheard her saying she wanted to come every day. We said that was impossible, but they were like, ‘Stephen, if she wants to come, we’ll make it happen for her.’”

Brad Weaver, director of golf at Lakewood, has helped shepherd Morgan’s burgeoning junior-golf career.

“She’s got a great demeanor,” he said. “She’s diligent. She comes out and gets her work in. She’s focused on what she wants to accomplish.

“We couldn’t be happier when we found out she made it (to the Drive, Chip & Putt). It’s a tremendous honor.”

Getting to Augusta takes a tremendous effort. As a 9-year-old last summer, Morgan had to win the girls 10-11 age group competition she will compete in Sunday in a local qualifier in June at The Island Country Club in Plaquemine. Then she won her sub-regional at TPC Louisiana in Avondale in August before advancing to the big regional qualifier in September at the Golf Club of Houston, site of this week’s Shell Houston Open.

“In Houston, there were zero expectations of her advancing,” Stephen Guepet said. “It’s a quirky event: three chips, three putts, three drives — and anything can kind of happen.

“The way they group the kids in age brackets (10-11), Morgan was playing against kids a year-and-a-half older. And they were just bombing it. She knew she had to get all three drives in play. From there, chipping and putting would be crucial.”

Morgan’s mother Leah kept her away from any scoreboard watching.

“I wanted to look at the scoreboard. My mom said, ‘OK, it’s the last person, you can look at it.’ I heard them say the girl’s score so far. I knew if she makes this she’ll be close,” Morgan recalled.

“(Stephen) was probably more excited than me.”

“I told her, ‘Morgan, remember how in golf we never root against anyone else? Well, that changes right now,’” Stephen Guepet admitted.

Now Morgan is headed to Augusta National, where the girl who swings a lot like Rory McIlroy said she hopes to meet two-time Masters winner Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler or world No. 1 Jason Day.

Unlike the regional, Morgan will get just two drives, chips and putts. Driving and chipping contests are at Augusta National’s expansive practice facility, while the putting takes place on the 18th green.

“In my opinion, she’s won already,” Stephen Guepet said. But just in case she does win her age group, he added: “I kind of made Morgan a side bet. If she wins, we’ll stay for the Par-3 (tournament Wednesday).”

If she wins, maybe dad will break down and throw in a pig as well.

— Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.

2016 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship

When: 8 a.m. Sunday

Where: Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga.

TV: Golf Channel

2017 Drive, Chip & Putt registration

Registration is underway for 2017 Drive, Chip & Putt Championship to be held April 2 at Augusta National Golf Club.

There will again be two local qualifiers and one sub-regional in Louisiana. Local qualifiers will be May 28 at the David Toms Golf Academy in Shreveport, and June 23 at The Island Country Club in Plaquemine. Winners advance to the Aug. 9 sub-regional at TPC Louisiana in Avondale.

Winners there qualify for a Sept. 10 regional at TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Boys and girls ages 7-15 are eligible to compete in separate divisions in four age categories. Entries close May 23 for Shreveport and June 18 for Plaquemine.

To register, visit DriveChipandPutt.com. Ticket applications for the championship will be available on the website this spring.