By Rob Lindquist
Lucy Li’s U.S. Women’s Open debut of 78 is a great thing for golf. Oh, and as you’ve heard by now, she’s 11. I’m 20 years her senior and I have never broken 80 on my local course. I’m a high school golf coach, she’s in sixth grade. She missed one fairway (by about a foot or two). I usually cheer when I hit a fairway three holes in a row. She shot a 78 on one of the most famed courses in the world, Pinehurst No. 2. I have played a course with pine trees. Ms. Li playing in the U.S. Women’s Open is great for golf, even if she missed the cut after a second round of 78 in as many days.
Oh, and I’m jealous as hell.
One of my friends is writing a book on youngsters getting into sports too early and getting burned out. He’s been posting links from books, and the local paper, that deal with this idea of kids starting too young at a sport. I know kids that play either baseball, soccer, wrestling or football EVERY weekend. That doesn’t include the practices. A pair I know seem to have really successful teams, but the two boys I know are 10 and 8. It had me thinking about this for a while. Are kids starting too young?
There is a documentary on Netflix called “The Short Game.” It’s about 7- and 8-year-old kids playing a national junior tournament at a world-renown course, and follows some of those kids around. They are elite. And I felt sorry for them. Why would their parents not let them be kids? I thought of the burnout factor. Then I thought a couple of more thoughts: 1) this isn’t a sport that is going to break a kid physically, and possibly hinder growth, like tackle football or baseball (or soccer for you World Cup fans). The wear and tear those sports cause isn’t nearly as detrimental as the repetition of a good golf swing. And 2) I have a 3-year-old daughter… Tiger and Phil started when they were three, right? The course those kids played on in the documentary? The Pinehurst Resort.
But here is why Li shooting 78 is good for golf: the conversation. Just the fact that I’m writing this (and then meta-thinking: you’re reading this) has got the conversation going in your mind about playing golf whether it’s you, your child/relative/friend’s kid or the pros out there now. Maybe you even have an inkling to get out there and shank (proper pun I believe) a few right now.
By the way, we’re talking about young female golfers. Where are they young male golfers? I mean, Jordan Spieth might be one of the best golfers 20 and younger (with Tiger Woods, Spieth became one of two males to win the U.S. Junior Amateur Championship twice). But he still went to college at Texas before turning pro. Tiger went to Stanford of course, and was able to become consistent (plus, you know, one of the best ever). And Spieth is now starting to become a real threat every week on the PGA Tour.
After a little research, there was a 12-year-old Chinese male golfer who qualified for the Volvo China Open, a European Tour event, in May of 2013. Ye Wo-cheng missed the cut. And, at least on this side of the pond, we haven’t heard much of him since. This seems to be more of the norm.
We’re quick to criticize youth sports until somebody makes it big. Remember, Lucy Li and Tiger Woods are the exception. Li is good for the game of golf because she is embodying what every parent would want for their child: success.
Now, where can I get a set of clubs for a 4-year-old’s birthday party this week?