Aayushi Sarkar has spent the winter refining her swing at the GolfTec in Roseville and hitting balls into a net in her basement in Woodbury. She swears that the golf-ball sized dents on the ceiling and storage door were created by … well, not her.
“I did leave a silver streak on the ceiling,” she said. “But that was my pitching wedge! Not the ball. I don’t make dents. My dad does.”
On Sunday, Sarkar will display her textbook swing in a more picturesque setting. She will compete in the Drive, Chip and Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club, four days before the most beautiful landlocked course in America hosts the Masters.
The event will be televised by the Golf Channel and include two other Minnesotans — Camille Kuznik of Brooklyn Park in the 10-to-11-year-old girls’ competition, and Connor Glynn of Waconia in the 14-15 boys competition.
Sarkar earned a berth in the competition by winning the Upper Midwest regional qualifier. When she received a letter notifying her of her berth in the competition, she was one of the golfers featured on the Golf Channel reacting joyously to the news. “My heart skipped a beat,” she said.
Her nerves probably didn’t change much. At 13, the seventh-grader is set to compete for the Woodbury varsity team this season. She already has won her share of junior tournaments, and she sets her jaw when asked her expectations for the competition in Augusta.
“I’m not coming back empty-handed,” she said.
As for her long-term goals, she plans to become a touring pro and sounds interested in college only if it helps her toward that goal.
“Maybe college,” she said. “Definitely the pros.”
She began playing when she was 6, because she didn’t see any reason to only watch her father. By 11, she was beating him.
“He took it pretty good,” she said.
Last winter, she attended the Minnesota Golf Show. Mickey Soderberg, the center manager and director of instruction at the Roseville GolfTec, gave her a couple of free lessons and saw a world of talent and grit. She has worked with Soderberg all winter.
“She’s like I was when I was 13,” Soderberg said. “I’d watch the Golf Channel year-round, then go sneak outside and hit balls in the snow as long as I could. She has the same attitude toward golf, and she has a lot more talent than I ever did.”
Hooked up to electronic monitors in the GolfTec bay, Sarkar uses her driver to pound shots into a net. A television shows her virtual shots arcing in a gentle curve from right to left, often hugging the imaginary white line down the imaginary fairway.
“She was fading the ball and losing some distance the way she was launching it,” Soderberg said. “I worked with her on hitting a draw, and now every shot is a draw. You tell her something, she stews on it for a couple of weeks, makes the change and suddenly it’s ingrained.
“She can repeat her swing, whatever swing it is, probably more than anybody I’ve ever seen. It’s very rare. Plus, she works harder than everyone else.”
“Last year the high school varsity coaches saw her and told her she could play varsity,” said Sarkar’s mother, Reema. “We had to tell them, ‘No, no, she’s only in sixth grade.’ She would have to wait a year.
“My husband and Aayushi go down to the basement all the time and hit golf balls. We do have a few dents to show for it, but it’s worth it.”
Aayushi didn’t like the implication. “They’re not my dents,” she said.
After watching her swing, you tend to believe her.