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Jun 06

Prodigies Gone Too Far

New Golfers Just Out of Diapers

I believe that the way in which I accepted the new wave of great golfers was fairly gracious and well-mannered, despite the fact that some of them could be my great-grandchildren, a stretch, but possible. I maintained a healthy interest in a 15 year-old playing in the Masters. I’ve followed the progress of Charley Hull, Lydia Ko and Lexi Thompson – fine, all good, no problem.

However, the new collection of wunderkinds make these guys seem downright geriatric, and I heard the news through a documentary called, “The Short Game.” In this look at some of the greatest golfers in the world who are currently under the age of 10, I was appalled to see these mighty midgets, who began swinging golf clubs while barely out of diapers, breaking par – while I am still sweating to break 80. Each year, they meet at Pinehurst in North Carolina for a three round, 27 hole tournament, par 36 per nine, and they’re shooting the lights out of a hard course, no matter how you adjust it.

short gameThe other thing that interested me, although it shouldn’t be too surprising, is that several of them are coming out of athletic families, specifically tennis families. That makes sense to me. Tennis and golf are high finesse, high concentration and fine motor control sports. One is ongoing without the chance to stop and think between shots, and one is formal and studied – sort of jazz and classical. One negotiates a fast-moving object coming at you in a variety of odd ways, while the other is based on “How shall I put this tiny object in that hole over in the next county with this primitive stick, even if it does say Calloway on it?

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Tennis star Peter Korda has enjoyed the chance to see his daughter, Jessica, carve out a presence on the LPGA tour in a fairly short amount of time. Ivan Lendl has had three collegiate golfing daughters, and Anna Kournikova? Don’t even ask  me about Anna Kournikova – ask me about Allan Kournikova.

short game 2While Anna ultimately decided to concentrate more of her efforts on the beauty, celebrity path, reflected in a small number of tennis championships but high-dollar product endorsements, Allan is, apparently, a maniac for the game. In fact, he just won the US Kids Golf European Championship as an 8 year old, and won the same tournament for seven and unders last year. At the Longniddry Golf Club in Gullane, Scotland, where the British Open is occasionally played, he won the continental cup for pint-sized child geniuses by going 3 under for the three rounds, a four-stroke win.

Allan has been swinging since 18 months, and is, by all accounts, one of those kids who can’t sit still, a condition that got his mother, Alla, in some trouble three years back. She locked him in to run errands, and he jumped out of a second-story window, to be found bleeding on the street. He has apparently recovered nicely, and is fit to go.

short game 3The length of the tournaments sounds about right for the age group. I remember coming in from that many holes dragging, but still willing to go for another nine. We’ve had child phenoms before, such as Tiger, who spent an inordinate amount of time on the course with his father. With such tournaments as the Kids European, though, I wonder if there aren’t more opportunities today to be showcased. Can they see you coming from a lot farther off than they used to? We’ll know when the first 4 year old wins the Masters, and Allan Kournikova is considered an old man in his teens. Meanwhile, he’s the new hot prospect to keep an eye on.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.