Whitehall golf prodigy got into the swing of things in Augusta
Michael Quallich was headed home to Whitehall after a whirlwind weekend at the Drive, Chip and Putt contest in Augusta, Ga., in early April when he got a very important phone call.
On the other end of the line was PGA pro John Daly, calling to compliment him on his swing.
“I’m like, ‘Wow!’ ” Michael said. “He talked to me like I was his best bud.”
Daly told Michael, “Don’t let anyone change your swing.” Then, followed up by sending him a box of autographed items and a note repeating the message.
Michael, a fourth-grader at Whitehall Elementary School who has been golfing since he was 2, was one of the top golfers in the world for boys ages 7 to 9. He advanced through subregional and regional competitions to be one of 10 boys in his age group competing in the Drive, Chip and Putt finals that took place during Masters week this year at the Augusta National Golf Club.
He came in eighth.
“I felt like I was normal going in,” Michael said of his time getting to play like a pro. “After the competition, I felt like I was more of a celebrity type. You’re not a celebrity until you do it.”
Michael has been working hard to hone his golf skills for years. His parents, Justin and Melissa, both recreational golfers, noticed his impressive swing when he was 2 and imitating the pros in front of the TV.
Since qualifying for the big event, Michael practiced nearly every day in 2019 at Cool Springs. On weekends, practices were taken to the backyard of his Whitehall home.
When his family arrived in Augusta, he immediately wanted to go practice more and got in two rounds with his dad and some of the other players.
There were a lot of really “cool” things for the young players at the competition, where players were treated like celebrities.
There was a ballroom set up filled with games and snacks and pop and candy, Michael said. That’s where his family, which includes siblings Bea, 11, and Demi, 5, liked to spend their evenings.
A large reception held on Saturday night included meet-and-greets with retired LPGA pro Nancy Lopez and the Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo. Michael got to meet both. They brought in the U.S. Open and Masters trophies for the kids to see.
Even the shuttle ride to the event the day of the competition was special. Michael and his family got to ride up Magnolia Lane, which is reserved for pros and members of the club.
“The first time going there, you just get blown away,” Michael said. “It’s awesome.”
As his name was announced on the loudspeaker, Melissa said she began to tear up.
“It is so unbelievable,” she said. “It makes you so proud, but nervous at the same time.”
Michael said he was nervous before, but once he started hitting the balls, that all went away.
Coming in eighth in the entire competition for his age range, “that’s pretty cool,” Michael said.
Walking off, Michael got a fist pump from PGA pro Fred Couples.
But the experience wasn’t over yet.
The competition was broadcast live on the Golf Channel, and Michael’s swing was played in slow motion and compared to Daly’s. A tweet from the Golf Channel also made the comparison.
The day after the competition, the Quallich family received passes to walk the practice round for the Masters. Michael was recognized by people and even signed a few autographs.
He was excited to see Dustin Johnson on the course practicing in real life, along with Rory McIlroy.
“They look way different on TV,” he said.
The course is far different in person, too.
One thing he loved about the competition was getting to putt on the 18th green. The other?
“Seeing all the famous people,” he said.
While Michael got to miss four days of school for the event, he returned as a normal fourth-grader, taking PSSAs the day he got back.
He has big plans for the future. He wants to head back to the Drive, Chip and Putt competition. He’s already getting ready for the qualifiers for 2020 that will take place in June. This year, he will be in the 10 to 11 age group.
Beyond that, he wants to go to the pros.
“Obviously, we want him to follow his dreams and if he can be a professional golfer, that would be great,” Melissa said. “But education is important to us as well.”
For anyone struggling, Michael has a bit of advice. He didn’t make it the first year.
“Always try to keep going,” he said. “Keep going and you’ll succeed, eventually.”