04/01/18 — Junior Golf -- Ella June Hannant takes on Augusta National

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Junior Golf -- Ella June Hannant takes on Augusta National

By Justin Hayes
Published in Sports on April 1, 2018 3:09 AM

Ella June Hannant bends to a knee, measuring with the poise of a crisis negotiator the spatial kinship between her driver and the practice ball she's teeing up. If you're going to send one, this bit of detail must be in proper order.

After a few stops and starts -- the ground is brittle, and her yellow tee isn't cooperating -- the 8-year old nails it, then moves into her pre-shot routine.

It's down cold, this number, and features any and all manner of championship economy. There's a little Annika in her squint and the waste-not, want-not of Rory in her approach to the golf ball.

And the final look down the line?

That's pure Nicklaus.  

What happens next is a rhythmic bullet-fade in a parade of them, each flushed with piercing trajectory, then blown down by a unrelenting crosswind howling in from the back nine at Lane Tree Golf Club.    

After the third or fourth rope in a row, one in the gaggle of family, friends and curious onlookers wonders aloud if she can hit the golf cart that is ever-slowly picking the range.

"Not way out there," she says with a smile.

•

The stripe show is now over and Hannant rifles through her bag, grabbing her Scotty Cameron putter and a fresh Titleist.

As she walks to the practice green -- a sprawling, three-tiered mound formed by architect John Lafoy's industrial mule -- she opines on the Golden Bear.

"He's very good under pressure," she said of the 18-time major winner. "And he's the greatest of all time."

So much for the ghost of Hogan, then.

Once at the green complex, Hannant gravitates to the lower tier, a somewhat flat run of bermuda opposite her parents, Steve and Regan, and her two sisters, Karsyn and Zada.

It's time to work.

And like a three-point marksman who grooves his form to begin every practice, the pint-sized Hannant places her egg a couple of inches from the hole and casually brushes it in.

"It's always good to see one go in," she remarks casually.

She then slips into a more serious portion of her routine, one that has helped her collect over 75 tournament titles in a span of three years.

It involves holing putts from three, six and nine feet, in that order, and doesn't get broken up until she is asked to navigate a putt that spans the length of the entire practice green, from top to bottom, in two strokes.

The absurdity of the task is peak fodder, yet Hannant -- who has a mind for numbers and a physical gift for all things requiring athletic touch and timing, looks intrigued.

She marches to the green's summit, Scotty in tow, casing every bit of its manic pitch and slope and sweeping undulation along the way.

In excess of 100 feet, the putt moves left at the outset, then right off the green's collar to complete its first third. At the midpoint, it picks up pace and readies for yet another slope.

The brutal truth?

There are Raymond Chandler novels that aren't as riddling.

Any putt rolled with a lack of conviction will suffer a mighty, meandering death in the first 20 feet; any putt struck with too much force will embrace its inner Lindsey Vonn and require the player to get a yardage back to the hole.

But it appears to matter very little to Hannant, whose all-in personality couldn't resist the challenge. She takes several small practice strokes, eyeing a mark in the first third, then lets it fly.

And it looks good.

Really good.

She's read the line nicely, but it ultimately finds the wrong side of a ridge over the last 25 feet.

Her effort -- of which many a grown person would be proud -- winds up near the right fringe, some 15 feet away, and is accompanied by an all-too-easy to discern look of frustration when she fails to convert the second putt.

In a word, miffed.

•

Hannant is the last to arrive for a series of family photos, pulled away from another round of 3-6-9 to take a spot in front of her grandparents and snug next to her baby sister.

She's not the reason they're together today, because as family units go, this is a close one -- but she is the reason they have shuffled anything resembling a normal schedule in recent months to prepare for storied Augusta National.

And as the group at last broke up its smiling pose, her father, Steve, reminds everyone that it's Thursday -- which means steaks in the club's expansive, vaulted dining room.

Not that his middle daughter heard a word of it, however.    

Ella June Hannant was preoccupied, gazing up the slope that just cost her a three-putt, likely figuring a way to get even.