Stingers: "Young" is becoming "too young"
Stone's accomplishment is indeed remarkable, but it also gives me pause. The girl has a professional website that lists her very active tournament schedule, a Twitter account (@LatannaStone) and a "fan community." I first heard of her five years ago, when I was an editor at Golf For Women magazine and received an e-mail with a link to a television news segment featuring the then-kindergartner:
According to a 2011 profile in Golfweek, Stone is home schooled and practices golf five days a week. Her father, who was once Stone's coach (she is now coached by noted instructor Brian Mogg) acts as caddie and her mother as videographer. There's a well-oiled machine in place to take this girl into the stratosphere. She has already won over 100 tournaments and seems destined for greatness.
Unless she burns out before high school.
Call me a cynic, but the age of some of the competitors popping up in national events is becoming ridiculously low. The LPGA tour is already lousy with overzealous parents watching their young daughters' every move, and there are enough cautionary tales (Michelle Wie and Ty Tryon the most famous) of parents pushing children to superstardom before puberty with disastrous results to make me wonder, shouldn't there be an age limit for these events like there is on the professional tours? (The LPGA Tour has an age limit of 18 to join, which they've set aside for people as young as a 16-year-old Lexi Thompson on a case-by-case basis.) I don't care how much the parents and coaches insist that it's the child who's driving the bus; a 10-year-old doesn't know what she's missing by spending all her time practicing and competing. If there's nothing stopping these girls from going for the big leagues in elementary school, there's also nothing stopping their parents from pushing them too hard. The media attention the young prodigies receive when they compete against grown-ups in a national event becomes a dangerous carrot for everyone around them. (Case in point, after the Stone news broke Tuesday, I received a message from the parent of another nationally ranked child that said, "we thought it was prob too soon for USGA - guess not!!! Next Year :)")
I think it's time for the USGA to revisit its own regulations. Let the kids compete against each other in junior events big and small, but make them wait until they're at least 14 to qualify for the U.S. Amateur. The price of a lost childhood is too high to pay.