- Golfer Benefits
Editor’s Note: Maya Palanza Gaudin won the girls 12-13 Division of the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals on Sunday. Learn more about her story below.
There are 80 junior boys and girls from around the world set to compete in the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals this Sunday morning at Augusta National Golf Club.
Even out of the more than 10,000 who tried to qualify, you’d be hard-pressed to find any of them with a more extraordinary story than 12-year-old Maya Palanza Gaudin (Sacconnesset Golf Club). It’s one of love, for golf (of course), but more importantly of family and commitment to make a difference in the world.
Note: The Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals is a 3-part skills competition for youth ages 7-15. It will be broadcast live on Golf Channel at 8 a.m. ET Sunday, April 2.
Maya is just like your typical 12-year-old. She enjoys Harry Potter movies, as well as Marvel characters like Iron Man, Black Widow and Spiderman. She thinks of funny lines from those movies to help keep her mind at ease on the course. She’s also a role model and caring big sister to Willa. “They’re the best of sisters,” according to their father. But the sisters understand what few others do — that having adoptive parents not only saved their life but provided them an opportunity to live out their dreams.
Born in Ethiopia in a village close to the Kenyan border, Maya overcame significant odds as an infant. She lost her mother in childbirth and was carried by her birth father and uncle to the nearest clinic that could supply proper nutrition for the newborn Maya.
At the same time, her parents — Massachusetts natives Stephen and Cassandra Gaudin — were living overseas as newlyweds. Stephen has been stationed in the Middle East for years, mainly at the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi (he’s since retired from the FBI). The couple met 20 years ago during a visit to Cassandra’s home on Cape Cod. The couple wed in 2003, but even before they were married, they knew they wanted to adopt.
The Gaudins’ family story is beautifully captured in the video attached below.
Maya Palanza Gaudin is far from ordinary and so is her story.
— Drive, Chip & Putt (@DriveChipPutt) March 27, 2023
The Gaudins spend most of the year in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. But they also have family and a home on Cape Cod, where they spend summers and often return to for Christmas. (No matter where they are, the Gaudins can often be spotted wearing apparel from The Black Dog, a popular local brand).
Working in intelligence understandably created quite a bit of stress. Maya was about 4 years old when Cassandra encouraged her husband to take up a hobby to balance out the strain of his career. That hobby turned out to be golf, but it became more than an outlet for Stephen; it was the start of a life-long pursuit for Maya.
“When dad was doing work in Abu Dhabi, mom signed him up for week-long of lessons, and he went out, got fitted, and started taking lessons,” Maya explained. “My mother then said you have to bring Maya out. I was on the range once while my dad had a lesson, and the man said ‘who’s that kid, she has a good swing?’ The instructor gave my dad a pat on the back and said ‘Stephen, your money is better spent on her.'”
From there, Maya developed sound fundamentals and eventually worked up enough skills to outplay her father. “I beat him in a 6-foot putting contest, and I said, ‘I beat my dad, I’m starting to like this,'” Maya said. She then began racking up medals in U.S. Kids Golf events. When she was just 8, she won an event and got to meet Rory McIlroy at the HSBC Classic, and the two have interacted many times since. (Rory’s advice to Maya about the 18th green, where the putting portion of the competition takes place: The green doesn’t break as much as you think). She also played a practice round with Thomas Pieters, who praised Maya for her ability to hit it far and straight for her age.
Since watching the Drive, Chip & Putt competition on TV for the first time at age 5, Gaudin has been fixated on getting there herself. She has played in qualifiers every year since she was age 6, and though she previously qualified for the National Finals, was unable to attend.
However, everything came together beautifully in 2022. She won the U.S. Kids Golf European Championship in Scotland, as well as women’s club championships at Sacconnesset and Yas Links (her home club in Abu Dhabi). And in front of many friends and family at TPC Boston last fall, she punched her ticket to Augusta with top 5 performances in each stage of competition.
Gaudin also draws inspiration from the underdog story of Francis Ouimet, whose 1913 U.S. Open victory was depicted in the 2005 Disney film ‘The Greatest Game Ever Played.’ The Gaudins have a particular affinity for Ouimet’s caddy Eddie. Christina often caddies for Maya, and will sometimes use some of Eddie’s lines from the film such as “Easy squeezy, lemon peezy.”
Despite her young age, Maya has already developed wisdom far beyond her years. She not only mentors other young golfers, but understands that her ability to play golf on a large platform can help inspire others to do the same.
As she wrote beautifully on her Drive, Chip & Putt profile page: “The golf ball doesn’t care who you are, or where you were born. The golf ball doesn’t care how much money you may have or about what your father and grandfather did for a job. The golf ball doesn’t care about the color of your skin, or how tall, skinny, heavy or popular you are. The golf ball doesn’t care about what school you go to. The golf ball only cares about one thing – and – only one thing: how you swing the club! That’s what I love about golf – it’s just about you and the golf ball.”
Wellesley’s Aarav Lavu (Blue Hill Country Club) burst onto the scene last summer with an extraordinary bogey-free round of 59 that earned him the Mass Young Golfers’ Amateur Championship. His excellent all-around game shined later that summer when he qualified for the Drive, Chip & Putt National finals at TPC Boston.
Lavu, who will compete in the Boys 12-13 Division, has tried to qualify for the National Finals every year since 2017. In his first sub-regional, his drive sailed right, but the ball hit a spotter’s cart and bounced back in, giving him enough points to qualify for the next stage.
“I watch [DCP] every year when it is on TV,” Lavu said. “It motivated me to get to Augusta one day.”
Ashland’s Adam Silverman is the youngest of the Massachusetts representatives to qualify. A member of Framingham Country Club, Silverman qualified in the boys 10-11 division by a thin margin, winning the first tiebreaker at TPC Boston, which is decided by most points earned in the putting skill, which Silverman had won with a 50.
Like Lavu, Silverman watched last year’s National Finals and envisioned himself being there on that stage.
“It motivated me to want to participate and win,” Silverman said, “especially seeing the drives and knowing that I could drive the ball just as far as the other kids in my age group.”