Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

They just keep getting younger: 10-year-old Latanna Stone makes history

In June, 14-year-old, Andy Zhang became the youngest player to qualify and play in the US Open.  This week another young golfer makes news.  Latanna Stone, age 10, qualified for the US Women’s Amateur.

When I heard about Andy Zhang I thought he was too young.  I was curious what a few of the golf experts I follow on twitter thought of his age.  I sent a tweet and got a reply from Stina Sternberg, Senior Editor, Golf Digest.  Below is the twitter conversation.

Twitter conversation with Stina SternbergI was a bit surprised by Stina Sternberg’s reply.  I still felt that 14 was too young.  My opinion is that 18 would be a reasonable age requirement.  After all, the USGA has “age limits” for other championships (e.g. junior and senior events).

When I saw the news this week that a 10-year-old made the US Women’s Amateur, I said out loud (to myself) — “ridiculous.”  I have no doubt the young girl is very talented but I just don’t agree with a 10-year-old competing in the event.

You might have caught that in the tweet above, Sternberg said “If you qualify, I don’t care if you are 10…”  So imagine my surprise when I saw this tweet from Sternberg…

Stina Sternberg wrote a great article about Latanna Stone.  Sternberg explains Stone’s background and highlights the fact this young girl is home schooled and has a  “professional website”.  Sternberg suggests it is time for the “USGA to revisit its own regulations.”  Sternberg goes on to state that the USGA should have them “wait until they’re at least 14 to qualify for the U.S. Amateur.”  I still think 14 is too young but I’m glad to see Sternberg does feel 10-years-old is too young.

I know it is common for kids today to spend a lot of time playing and practicing their chosen sport.  My friends with kids spend hours traveling around on weekends to take the kids to soccer, basketball, baseball, and hockey games.  But, these kids compete against other kids.  I support all the AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) competitions and the USGA’s junior competitions where young golfers compete against their peers.

So why the urgency to play in the other events?  Because the can? Only the young golfer (and the parents) know the real motivation.  I must admit I wonder if the parents worry about their child suffering from burnout or repetitive motion injuries (which could happen just when they should be peaking for a professional career.)

The bottom line is that until the age limits change these kids have a right to play in the events.  It’s impossible to deny the amazing talent they posses.  So, congratulations to these young golfers for making it to the highest level of amateur golf.  I just hope these young golfers get to be “kids” too!