Golf’s Newest Prodigies
Two things struck my eye today that were positively fascinating in terms of talented young golfers who might someday make a big mark in the pro game. Altogether, both stories were alarming, the first one “good” alarming, and the second “leave you speechless” alarming. The stories are centered around two prodigies, both young ladies, who are either in situations of opportunities or limbo, where one would least expect them to be.
If you cover professional golf, and certainly the women’s game, you spend some of your time being a prodigy-watcher. There are just too many of them to ignore. Players like Lexi Thompson are adults now, and others such as Charley Hull are getting awfully close. Lydia Ko won big things before the age of fifteen, appearing as a heart-stopping presence in any field. If I remember correctly, she isn’t 20 yet, right? Brooke Henderson is setting things on fire, so now we can take a rest from our preoccupation with prodigies. We have all we need, right?
Not right! Suddenly here comes another adorable kid from the U.S., Escondido to be exact, by the name of Karah Stanford. She is fourteen years of age. That’s about 12 or 13 years removed from learning to walk. That doesn’t change the fact, however, that she has qualified (the youngest, certainly) to play in the U.S. Women’s Open coming up soon. Â Really, another 14 year old that good from an ever-burgeoning pool of prodigies? Do you know what that does to an old guy still trying to learn the basics of chipping and putting?
On the other side of the fairway is an unfolding situation involving a U.S. judge who has taken an unorthodox liberty. Apparently, her parents are still locked in a seven-year custody battle for their daughter, who is 10. That’s sad enough, but this is no ordinary child. Her life talent has surfaced early on, and she has won just about every tournament around that a child of 10 can enter – somewhere in the thirties. The father is a coach and player, and has largely guided the pre-career of this girl who, unlike Karah Stanford, is only eight or nine years away from having learned to walk.
My grandfather was a judge, and looking back at his massive body of precedent law in my state, it was all about giving children good, healthy things to do while getting through troubled patches. He even bought a juvenile detention center with his own money, took out the bars, fences and padlocks, and made it such a “can do” place that everyone wanted to stay. Apparently, he wasn’t put off by prodigies at all.
Judge Jeannete Irby, however, solved the custody standoff by awarding rights to the mother, then forbidding the daughter (unnamed in most publications) from playing competitive golf for a period of one year, playing and studying only with her father, and playing no more than one round per week. Judge Irby doesn’t know much about prodigies, perhaps. In age-sensitive games, it’s usually good to get started, especially on the LPGA, where you can feel like an old lady in your twenties. There is much to know about such a case, especially the seven-year lock-up, but it certainly appears that the child has been turned into the defendant, odd-girl out.
The young lady in question had a season’s worth of tournament dates prepared, and studies with an LPGA pro named Kris Tschetter, who is beyond speechless. Referring to the ruling as utterly negligent, Tschetter wonders if anyone asked the girl if she wanted to play?
Well, it’s probably an easy mistake to make. Judge Irby was likely not a prodigy. My grandfather was – maybe that’s why he would have recognized it. At any rate, imagine how a rapidly-aging golfer like myself responds to one barely adolescent earning a spot in the U.S. Open, and another sentenced to house arrest with shackles on her likely career. Of course, far be it from me to judge.