ROCKFORD — The Drive, Chip & Putt Championship allows young golfers to test their skills against players from across the United States. Ailani Thiravong has competed in the Drive, Chip & Putt Championship circuit every summer since 2016, and the 10-year-old from Rochelle breezed through the local qualifying round for the fourth consecutive year.
Thiravong placed second in the local qualifier at Aldeen Golf Club on July 25, scoring 100 points across the three categories and tying for first place with 19 points in the driving category. Thiravong advanced to the subregional qualifier at Countryside Golf Club on July 30, finishing third in her age group with 84 points to earn alternate status for the regional qualifier.
“It was an amazing experience,” Thiravong said. “I was looking forward to seeing and playing at a new golf course. My goal is always to make it to the Masters Tournament, and I know it takes a lot of practice, hard work and believing in myself to achieve that goal.”
Ailani is the younger sister of Megan Thiravong, who currently plays for the Rochelle Township High School varsity golf program. She said her short game has been critical to playing well in tournaments this summer, and she’s aiming to improve her driving as she continues getting older and gaining more experience.
“I cannot hit the ball very far compared to my 11 and 12-year-old competitors so my short game definitely makes up for my long game,” Thiravong said. “My mom ages me up to compete against older players, and I’m working hard to improve my long game.”
This summer has been a busy one for Thiravong, who plays in Rockford’s PGA Junior League and has won several tournaments including a top finish at Ledges on July 22. But her favorite experience from this summer was attending the 43rd Annual Rockford Pro-Am, where she had the chance to interview PGA professionals such as Troy Merritt and Kevin Streelman. Thiravong was also named to the Junior League All-Star Team for a fourth consecutive summer.
“The highlight of my summer golf season was having the opportunity to interview all of the professional players at the Rockford Pro-Am,” Thiravong said. “I had the most awesome experience.”