The first round of this year’s Masters Tournament begins on Thursday at Augusta National – but tears of joy were already flowing this past Sunday amidst the blooming azaleas and lush green carpet fairways of the famed Southern country club.

Autumn Solesbee is just nine years old and the winner of her age group in the annual Drive, Chip and Putt golf tournament. She attends Southlake Christian Academy in Huntersville, NC.

Founded in 2013, the free competition brings together the best golfers between the ages of 7-15 who have advanced through qualifying regional rounds across the country.

Each of this year’s victors have a story – and Autumn is no exception.

Prior to being adopted by Donnie and Jamie Solesbee at the age of seven, Autumn spent a good portion of her early life in foster care. But when she was welcomed into her new forever home, she made, at least up until that point, the most important decision of her life.

“She came from some troubled times in her life and decided she’s going to be a happy kid.” Donnie Solesbee said. 

“Our daughter Autumn didn’t choose the circumstances of her birth or where she spent the first years of her life,” Donne and Jamie wrote last November. “She didn’t get to decide how long she’d be in foster care or whether someone would adopt her. But she did make a decision that was all her own. She decided to let hope and joy define her.”

Autumn’s parents inadvertently planted the seed for her love of the game when they decided to bring their new daughter to Top Golf – a fun and disarming place for her to meet her new grandfather.

After lunch and a few hours swinging a club, the seven-year-old was hooked. For the last couple years, she’s shared she wants to be the best golfer in the world.

“We tell her, ‘Simone Biles had to sacrifice to be the best. That means when other kids are playing after school, you’ll have golf practice. If you don’t want to spend as much time practicing, that’s totally fine. That’s your choice. But we want you to be able to make that decision for yourself,’ said Jamie. “We try to serve as her cerebral cortex as she makes that decision.”

Seven-time Olympic medal gymnast Simone Biles spent three years in foster care before being adopted by her biological grandparents. Autumn has watched and been inspired by Biles’ story.

After winning Sunday’s competition, Autumn was thrilled to receive her trophy from former Masters’ champion and adoptive father Bubba Watson.

“The first thing she says to me when I met her this morning was that I’m adopted and she loves me because we adopted our two kids,” said Watson, tears welling up in his eyes. “I was overwhelmed.”

There is always a lot to every adoption story, and each one is unique to the child, the parents and the circumstances. But God is in the middle of each and every one.

“Every day we grow together as a family,” said the Solesbees. “We have learned so much from Autumn’s strength, resilience, hope and joy. She personifies ‘grit and grace.’”

“There is no greater gift than the love of a child. And know that there is no perfect time to adopt. There is only perfect love. And that is what makes a family.”