Willow Ruel’s dream is to one day become a professional hockey player.
It just so happens the 11-year-old from Mattapoisett is also a standout on the golf course.
She’ll get to showcase her skills on April 3 at Augusta National during the 2022 Masters Drive, Chip and Putt tournament, which will be televised on ESPN.
The tournament features four age groups with 10 male and female golfers each from across the country. Ruel will be competing in the girls 10 and 11-year-old category.
“I’m excited, but I’m kind of nervous,” said Ruel, a fifth grader at Old Hammond Town School.
It took three qualifiers for Ruel to earn her spot in the national tournament.
First, she won the local qualifier last July at the Bay Club in Mattapoisett on her home course. The following month, she took first at a sub-regional qualifier at LeBaron Hills in Lakeville and punched her ticket to Augusta by pulling out a one-point win at the regional qualifier at TPC Highlands in Cromwell, Connecticut last September.
“At the last one, her putting and chipping were really good,” said Ruel’s mother, Jennifer Risio. “It was a close competition and you don’t find out anyone’s scores until the end. It’s a secret. They started putting the scores up and then I realized she was at the top.
“I started crying. My heart was racing. She won.”
Ruel had previously reached the regional qualifier in 2019 and the sub-regional qualifier in back-to-back years in 2017 and 2018.
More than a dozen family members are going to make the trip down to Georgia to cheer on Ruel.
“It’s become a huge family trip,” Risio said. “A time to celebrate Willow. We can’t wait to see her compete and we can’t wait to step on the grounds of Augusta National. My husband (Jon) went before.
“It’s an experience of a lifetime. My husband has always wanted to take me there. Willow got us there. I can’t wait to smell the flowers and step on the grounds.”
While Ruel would love to win, she said her focus is on the experience.
“I just want to play for fun,” she said. “I’m most excited about all of it. I can not wait.”
Risio added, “I think she’s starting to realize now that we come down to the wire how special it is.”
Ruel began playing golf at age three.
She got into the Drive, Chip and Putt competitions in 2017.
“She had a September birthday, but they let her compete in August and she did well,” Risio said of her first Drive, Chip and Putt tournament. “She has competed every year since and her scores have gotten better and better.”
Ruel is also a member of the PGA Junior Team at the Bay Club.
She has worked on developing all aspects of her game with her father, Jon, grandfather, Papa (Jon) Ruel, and Bay Club golf pro Ben Egan.
“Chipping is my favorite,” she said. “I feel like you’re in one place and you don’t have to hit it really hard. Putting is my strength. I practice driving a lot.”
Risio added, “She has this innate accuracy. It’s built into her. She likes to get it in the hole. That’s exciting. Driving is fun. When you hit a good chip and you hit a good putt, it gets in the hole.”
When she’s not working on her golf game, Ruel can be found playing hockey and soccer.
“Golf is a great complement to both of those,” Risio said. “Her golf game is powerful because of her hockey. She’s got the passion for hockey.”
For now, Ruel’s focus is on golf and savoring this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every aspiring golfer dreams of.