Aiden Bragg is a 10-year-old boy, slight and bespectacled, who happens to enjoy hitting dimpled little balls around a golf course.
It’s quite a bit more difficult than kicking a can, and even though neither he nor anyone else has completely mastered it, Aiden is astonishingly good at golf. He played with some of the best in the world at his age in the Red, White & Blue Invitational last weekend. It was both in Pinehurst – North Carolina – and at Pinehurst, a golfing capital, on the course No. 1. The resort has nine courses, with its No. 2 being the most famous.
The renowned designer of No. 2, Donald Ross (1872-1948), redesigned No. 1, which opened in 1901.
In other words, Pinehurst is an historic place. The U.S. Open is to make a fourth appearance there in 2024.
Getting back to Bragg, an endearing prodigy from Clinton who stands 4-foot-7 and tips the scales at 92 pounds, the Red, White & Blue marked his first tournament experience on a course measuring over 5,000 yards, reined in for the game of youngsters. His distance off the tee is modest, but his verve around the greens is already a source of local renown at Lakeside Country Club. He allows himself enough free time to be a straight-A student in school, which he attends “virtually.”
Ask Aiden about his short game, and he sounds as if he’s giving lessons.
“I have a 65-degree (wedge) that I hit out of bunkers,” he said. “I open my stance and open the club face a little, and swing out, a little harder than normal.”
Nothing to it.
Aiden’s grandfather, Bobby Smith, is his chief mentor. Asked how he learned the virtues of patience and rhythm that excellence often requires, he giggled and pointed at Smith.
His father, A.J., says Aiden started playing “with real clubs” at “three or four.”
“He came out here (Lakeside) with us, just monkeying around, and he was eight when he decided he wanted to play in local tournaments,” Smith said.
It was then, the summer of 2018, when Aiden decided to quit playing other sports.
“He saw that it was taking time away from golf,” A.J. said, “so he didn’t want to do it anymore."
As he gets older, the demands on distance become sterner. His best round, on what Smith defined as “a legitimate (longer) set of tees,” is 74. He shot that score again in nearby Southern Pines last week in a practice round leading up to the Red, White & Blue.
Those tees he calls “the Cheese tees.”
Smith started calling Aiden “Chief,” which quickly morphed into “Cheese” on the country club grounds. He has given up other sports by his own choice, and it’s a good thing because he is scheduled to play in four tournaments in the coming week alone.
Recently, “Cheese” and his granddad were driving home from the course, and the youngster matter-of-factly said he thought he wanted to play golf for a living.
“I want to do something I love,” he said. “I don’t want to have to work as hard as you and Mom (Courtney) and Dad do.”
In the biggest tournament of his young life to date, Aiden shot consecutive rounds of 84, tying for 27th in a field of 42. The Red, White & Blue is a product of the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, generally considered its eastern championship and annually contested at Pinehurst Resort. However, one of Aiden’s opening-round partners was from Venezuela. Playing in the tournament was both honorable and daunting. The winner, from Ann Arbor, Mich., shot 77-68.
To be invited, Aiden had to excel at the local and regional levels. Qualifying for prestigious tournaments is based on the accumulation of points.
“They literally have tiers, just like the PGA Tour, where every event you do, and every time you do well, it determines whether you are invited to the next level,” A.J. said.
Aiden has three U.S. Kids wins at the local level and “tons of seconds.”
And he’s just getting started.