LITTLETON — Columbine sophomore Matai Naqica is going to have dinner this week with Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Tiger Woods.
Naqica, who helped Columbine’s boys golf team to the Class 5A Jeffco League title for the first time since 1977 last fall and placed third individually in conference play, qualified for the Drive, Chip & Putt National competition that will be held April 3 at Augusta National in Georgia.
The first PGA golf major of the year, The Masters Tournament, will be held at Augusta National the following week.
“I don’t even care what happens,” Columbine High School’s boys golf coach Cory Olsen said of the actual competition. “It’s a win before we even get on a plane to go down there. The opportunities we’ll have of meeting Jack Nicklaus, going to the clubhouse at Augusta and driving down Magnolia Lane. It’s awesome.”
There will be eight members of the Rebels’ golf program heading to Georgia at the end of this week. Naqica, who started swinging a golf club at age 3 and starting playing tournament at the age of 8, will be in the spotlight with the event being televised live on ESPN.
Naqica had attempted to qualify for the drive, chip and putt since 2015. This is the first time he had made it all the way to qualify for nationals in Georgia. It was also his last chance to qualify with the oldest age group being 14-15.
“The short game was a lot better than the past two years,” Naqica said of the key to make it to nationals this year. “I just really worked hard on my short game to get to this point.”
Naqica’s final hurdle to make nationals was winning the regional qualifier on Sept. 19 at Colorado Golf Club. The sophomore racked up 163 points to win the boys 14-15 division and make the top-10 in his age group to qualify for nationals.
“I’m so excited to go,” Naqica said. “I want to put in the best effort I can to prepare for this because I really want to win.”
The sophomore isn’t nervous about playing at the historic venue and being in an event that will be on live television. Naqica says he will stick to his routine of meditation and practice a lot to get his confidence up heading into the event.
“Winning this was one of my biggest goals this year,” Naqica said. “I have a lot of big summer tournaments coming up. I feel like I need to focus on those as much as I’m focusing on (Drive, Chip & Putt Nationals).”
Olsen has actually been Naqica’s coach since the start of the Rebels’ golf standout career. Olsen met Naqica’s father before Matai was born.
“It’s pretty cool,” Olsen said of coaching Naqica for several years before high school. “Matai has kind of taught me that I might know a little bit about this whole coaching thing. He has encouraged me as much when it comes to coaching I hope as much as I have encouraged him as a player.”
Olsen will be Naqica’s caddie during the event coming up this weekend.
“We always stress the team aspect,” Olsen said. “For Matai to make something that I’ve been dreaming about and do it for his teammates and do it for the entire Columbine community is a big deal for us. The whole squad is going down there.”
Olsen isn’t worried about the results for Naqica at at home of The Masters. Having the upcoming experiences is the most important aspect to the trip.
“Matai has made the dream happen for all eight of us who are going down there,” Olsen said.
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.