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Oh to be young at the Women's Amateur

BARRINGTON, R.I.—Let me start with a voice from the past:

"That a teenager would claim the most prestigious title in women’s amateur golf for a fourth straight year seemed fitting, what with enough high schoolers in the field to make you wonder whether the championship was doubling as a summer sleepover camp. The average age of the 156 players competing at Crooked Stick was a mere 20.49 (down from 22.1 in 2004) with only 12 individuals 25 and older making their way to the Carmel, Ind., club outside Indianapolis."

I wrote this paragraph in my game story for Golf World from the 2007 U.S. Women's Amateur at Crooked Stick, won by 17-year-old Maria Jose Uribe. I bring it up because obviously at the time I was intrigued by the fact that the participants in the championship were so young.

Four years later, in attendance at the 111th U.S. Women's Amateur, I can say that the golfers at Crooked Stick were gray hairs compared to those competing this week at Rhode Island CC. The average age of the participants this week is 19.5. And there are only 11 players that are 25 and older, with three being 50 and older (exempt into the field by their performances at the USGA Senior Women's Amateur). Forty-nine players at RICC are younger than 18.

Back at Crooked Stick the average age of the quarterfinalist was even more mind-boggling: 16.63. Yet if the low eight players during stroke-play qualifying advance to the quarters come Friday, their average age would be 16.62, the oldest being Casey Grice, a North Carolina undergrad who is all of 19.

This week's co-medalist, Jihee Kim, is a 17-year-old from South Korea playing in her first USGA event. She was a member of the South Korean squad that captured the Women's World Amateur Team championship last year in Argentina.

Kim's six-under 136 tied her with New Zealand's Lydia Ko, a 14-year-old from New Zealand who broke the Ladies European Tour record for the youngest golfer to make a cut in a LET event in 2009.

Ko also is playing in her first USGA event, having spent the past few weeks in the U.S. with her coach/caddie Guy Wilson and her mother. After qualifying for the Women's Amateur in Boston, Ko and friends went to California to play golf (Wilson worked to get Ko on Cypress Point) and relax before returning to the East Coast, the overall trip costing them $25,000.  

"It's good to start at an early age," said Ko, who took the game up when she was 5 after being introduced to it by a family member. "I think it's easier to learn when you're younger."

Ko might be young but her resume is impressive as she holds the No. 1 spot in the Women's World Amateur Golf Ranking. She's proud of her record so far but admits that playing at the level she does now brings with it some baggage.

"I enjoy [golf]," Ko said, "but when I was 6 I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it more. It was less stressful."

The youngest player in the field, Angel Yin, turned 12 last October. She just missed making it into match play, falling one stroke off the seven-over 149 number that qualified for a playoff for the final spots into Wednesday's first round.