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.



Women of the Golf Channel


The other day I was talking to a gentleman that likes golf and he said “I like that woman on the golf channel. You know, she’s attractive and has a deep voice.”  I said, “The one that does the tournament coverage?”  He said “Yes.”  I replied “That’s Kelly Tilghman.”

There is great female on-air talent at the Golf Channel and I thought it would be fun to give my view on the women of the golf channel.

(1) Kelly Tilghman is the “grande dame” of the Golf Channel.  She has been with the golf channel since the very beginning and according to her bio, “in 2007, she became the first full-time female play-by-play commentator in the history of the PGA Tour.”

I have watched Tilghman for years and like her commentary and she does have a great voice.  She also has great golf credentials — she was on the golf team at Duke and played professionally from 1992 to 1996.  She is also very funny.  She recently was on Morning Drive and was great.  I hope they have her guest host again.

Unfortunately, her humor has gotten her into trouble.  Many will remember Tilghman because she made a remark during a PGA tournament broadcast in 2008 that Rev. Al Sharpton claimed was a racial insult to Tiger Woods.  Tilghman did apologize but that was not enough for Rev. Al Sharpton — he wanted her fired.  On the other hand, Tiger said he did not take offense.  In fact Tiger appears to trust Tilghman (which was evident in 2010 when Tiger selected Tilghman to do his first interview after his personal life scandal.)  And, Tilghman has been an announcer on Tiger’s very popular Video games.

Image of Holly Sonders(2) Holly Sonders is on the Morning Drive show. Her role is basically to do news headlines and setup segments for the main two hosts (Erik Kuselias and Gary Williams.)  She played college golf for Michigan State University.  You can tell from the few segments she has done on golf exercises and the swing that she really is a great golfer.  The golf channel executives must have noticed too because it was just announced she will be on The School of Golf every Wednesday.  She is also quite funny. I wish she had more air time on the morning show.

Image of Winn McMurray(3) Winn McMurray — McMurray is the fashion consultant and writes articles for “Fashion Focus” (a golf channel blog.)  She used to also host “The 19th Hole” but that has a new host (see below). Her big claim to fame is that she won the 2011 Fantasy Golf Challenge.  I’m always happy to see a woman win!

Image of Lauren Thompson(4) Lauren Thompson — Thompson hosts Golf Now, a travel show. And, the morning drive cast have given her the nickname of T3 (because she hosts the Top Ten series and her last name is Thompson — get it, Top Ten Thompson).

Image of Stephanie Sparks(5) Stephanie Sparks —  Most will know Sparks from the Big Break which is a reality show on the Golf Channel.  She also does on-course commentary for the LPGA and Nationwide tour.  Like Tilghman, she played golf at Duke University.  I like Stephanie Sparks on Big Break but you don’t see her on any other shows.

Image of Lara Baldesarra

(6) Lara Baldesarra — The newest member of Golf Channel’s elite women broadcasters.  She just started this year as the host of The 19th Hole.  She will also fill in as a co-host on the Golf Central show.  My first impressions of her on-air style is that she is very animated and I can tell she is Canadian by the way she says words like “about.”  I’m not crazy about the tone of her voice — it is a bit grating to me; but I’m willing to see how she does over time.

Overall I think all of the Golf Channel Women are entertaining and do a great job.  My favorites are based on their on-air personality and how they display their knowledge of the game.  Kelly Tilghman is my favorite and Holly Sonders is fast becoming a close second. I think Sonders has a very promising future with the Golf Channel.