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Golf: Return to Augusta National figures to be even more special for Gainesville's Hudson Justus
Hudson Justus 6.jpg
Gainesville's Hudson Justus poses with his medal after winning the Drive, Chip and Putt regional championship Sept. 11, 2022 at Quail Hollow in Charlotte, N.C. Justus will compete in the national championship April 2 at Augusta National Golf Club to help kick off Masters week. Photo courtesy of Scott Justus For The Times

As one of the top junior golf players in Hall County and all of Georgia, Gainesville's Hudson Justus has had plenty of thrilling and unique experiences on some of the most prestigious courses throughout the country.

That includes winning the 10-11 age group regional qualifier for the Drive, Chip and Putt national developmental skills competition last September at Quail Hollow Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C.

However, even that accomplishment will likely pale in comparison to what lies just a few days ahead for the fifth-grader at Mount Vernon Elementary in Northern Hall County.

Justus will compete in Sunday’s Drive, Chip and Putt national finals on the hallowed grounds of Augusta National Golf Club, one of the events that kick off Masters week leading up to the 2023 tournament, which tees off April 6.

It won’t be the 11-year-old’s first trip to Augusta National – he accompanied his father Scott to a practice round prior to last year’s Masters.

However, even though it will be in a skills competition and not playing an actual round, being able be in front of the ropes at one of America’s most famous courses will be something much more momentous.

“It’s very cool,” Justus said. “Not a lot of people get to go there. It’s just a very cool place and very historical. … “It’s probably one of the coolest (things he’s ever gotten to do). It’s definitely not the biggest (golf event) just because it’s not (a full tournament), but it’s probably one of the coolest things.”

According to his father, Justus was a bit in awe of being at Augusta National when they went to the practice round last year.

While some of that feeling may have subsided a bit in the past year, Scott Justus knows how special it was for his son, and suspects that Sunday’s even could ramp up how memorable experience to an even higher level.

“Taking him to Augusta on that Tuesday last year, I just watched his face,” Scott Justus said. “I didn’t say a whole lot. Just coming in the (gate) and coming down the little path that gets to the driving range, I saw him look down and he looked at me, and I said, ‘It’s real, son.’ He said, ‘No, it’s not.’ And I said, ‘Son, that is real grass.’

“It’s just (like) Disney World. He’s fixing to play in his Disney World. I would say (for) any avid golfer, that’s a bucket list (item). The fact that he gets to do this at 11 years old is something he and his Mom and I could only dream about. That’s why we did it, to give him that opportunity.”

The younger Justus may now realize the grass he was able to tread on at Augusta National a year ago was, and still is, real.

However, he admits that being able to bring his clubs and takes swings on the course, particularly during the final part of the event – the putting competition that will take place on the 18th green, where many of the Masters’ most memorable moments have taken place – will be something he may not fully fathom until the event gets closer.

“It’ll (feel more real) the night before or whenever I can walk on the grass, probably,” Hudson Justus said. “I think you drive on the driving range, chip on the chipping range and then you putt on 18. That’s probably going to be the coolest part.”

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