With younger athletes winning tournaments, starting young seems to be beneficial for golfers.
There is a 19-year difference between the oldest and youngest winners of this year’s Ladies Professional Golf Association championships. Lydia Ko made history in August when she won the Canadian Women’s Open at 15, which made Angela Stanford, who won the HSBC Women’s Champions event in Singapore at 34, seem ancient.
Ko took the title of youngest winner in association history from Lexi Thompson, who won a tournament in 2011 at 16 years old.
All three golfers started before they were 10 years old.
SIU Junior Cassie Rushing said she started to compete in tournaments when she was 7. She said she is able to play at the collegiate level because of her experience.
“You learn something from every tournament,” she said.
SIU women’s golf coach Alexis Mehelich said all but one Saluki golfer started to play before the age of 10.
“To be able to play at this level now, these kids need more than four years of (high school) experience,” she said. “They needed to have started at a younger age to get their game more well-rounded.”
Mehelich, who is in her second season with SIU, said parents would call to ask for lessons for their 3- and 4-year-olds when she was a teaching professional in Green Garden, but she only taught 5 and up because any earlier was a waste of the parents’ money.
“It would really be keeping them from killing themselves with the club … It was more of safety mode,” she said. “We would try and get them out on the course because they didn’t quite understand the concept of the driving range.”
She said the trend of parents who start their children in golf young started when Tiger Woods came to the scene. Woods won his first Masters at 21, which is the youngest to date.
“Now, if you don’t get started by 6 or 8, you are already behind the eight ball,” she said.
Maggie Bryant, a junior at Carbondale Community High School, said she started to golf when she was 7, and she picked it up again in high school after not playing competitively.
She said she lost interest in the sport after a while, but she became very devoted when she started playing again.
Lindsey Phillips, Carbondale Community High School girls’ golf coach, said a majority of her players picked up the sport during high school unlike SIU’s team.
Phillips said she didn’t begin serious play until the summer before she began high school, and she thinks that was a late start.
“I had to work really hard to make sure I was playing as well as the girls who had been playing longer,” said Phillips, who played for three years at SIU.
She said she has seen a correlation between those who have done well and those who started young.