Alexis Thompson, the 12-year-old who became the youngest girl ever to qualify for the U.S. Women's Open, shot a respectable 76 in Thursday's opening round. She wasn't as good on Friday and will probably not make the cut (qualify for the last two rounds by being in the better half of the entrants) when the second round of the rain-delayed tournament finishes on Saturday. But it's still a pretty amazing showing for somebody who just finished 6th grade (home-schooled).
On the other hand, prodigies are hardly unknown in women's golf. Morgan Pressel qualified as a (somewhat older) 12-year-old in 2001's Women's Open.
John Paul Newport, the WSJ's golf columnist, points out:
Of the 156 competitors in Southern Pines, N.C., 24 are teenagers, and nearly a third are younger than 22. That compares to only five players under 22 in last month's men's U.S. Open. ...
You can call it the Tiger Woods effect for girls, but the difference is that girls tend to mature physically sooner than boys. Many, by their early or mid teens, have attained their full adult stature and close to their full adult strength. They are ready for prime time earlier.
Michelle Wie was arguably better than Tiger at age 14 and 15 -- she three times came within a stroke of making the cut in men's PGA tournaments, which is better than Tiger did at the same age even though he was already recognized as the greatest male prodigy since Bobby Jones -- but she's struggling at age 17. When the estrogen is fully flowing, athleticism often plateaus.
The elite players who make it into events like the U.S. Open often come from blue-chip athletic backgrounds. Both of Morgan Pressel's parents, for instance, were top college athletes and her uncle, Aaron Krickstein, was once the sixth-ranked tennis player in the world. Among the top players in girls amateur golf these days are two of tennis great Ivan Lendl's daughters.
Ms. Thompson, whose oldest brother, Nicholas, ranks second on the Nationwide Tour money list, is home schooled, along with her middle brother, so they can travel as needed to tournaments around the country and practice when they are home in Coral Gables, Fla., on the golf course outside their back door.
There just aren't that many teenage girls who care much about golf, so athletic families with country club memberships have a good shot at winning a full scholarship for their daughters on a college golf team (due to Title IX) if they can get their daughters to concentrate on the game.
But non-elite girls are also showing more interest in golf these days. In a generally stagnant golf market, the only category that has shown any significant growth in the last few years is under-17 females. A magazine called Golfer Girl has just debuted, with features about top young players and golf fashion. The competitive scene for girls in places like Southern California and
I've noticed this trend at the local driving range -- there are more pretty girls than at the beginning of the decade.
In SoCal, Asians dominate high school girls golf much more than high school boys' golf. At the 2007
On the women's LPGA tour in 2007, 20 of the top 50 moneywinners have Asian names, including 5 Kims and 4 Lees, as opposed to 4 of the top 50 on the PGA men's tour.