It is interesting that 13 junior girls will be teeing it up in this year's U.S. Women's Open at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa., and not a single boy under 18 made it to Bethpage. Interesting, but not surprising.
Stephen Hamblin, executive director of the American Junior Golf Association, explains the reason why. "There are an overwhelming number of opportunities for young men aspiring to the professional ranks including developmental tours like Hooters, Gateway and Nationwide. Local and regional qualifying rounds for the men's Open are filled with golfers with more competitive experience than juniors in the field and it's intimidating for them. Except for the Duramed Futures Tour, similar opportunities do not exist for women."
"We also need to consider the maturation factor," adds Hamblin. "Junior girls may be better able to handle the competitive challenge at that level."
(The final group of the Rolex Girls Junior Championship. From left to right: Kimberly Kim, Victoria Tanco and Allison Lee. Photo courtesy of AJGA)
The bottom line is there are more places for junior girls and women. That accounts for the significant number of amateurs playing this week. Of the156 contestants in the field, 31are amateurs and 13 of those are juniors.
Can one of these young players pull off an Open victory? Anything is possible. LPGA player Brittany Lincicome led the 2004 Open as an 18-year-old amateur with an opening round 66, eventually finishing in 55th place.
Current USGA junior girls champion Alexis Thompson, at the tender age of 14, is making her third Open appearance. Tiffany Lua, 18, played last year at Interlachen, as did Jessica Korda, 16, who tied for 19th, good enough for an exemption this time. Kimberly Kim, 18, won the Rolex Girls Junior Championship in June, her last junior event, has a chance. Victoria Tanco, 15, winner of last week's Rolex Tournament of Champions by nine shots, could be a contender. "Watch out for anyone who dominates," advises Hamblin. The youngest is 13-year-old Cindy Feng.
"At some point in time, a junior could win, especially a girl who has won other events, handled her nerves under pressure and can say, I belong at the next level.' The Open will be more demanding than junior events -- answering tough questions, galleries and TV," adds Hamblin.
Will a junior win this year? 13 young golfers are hoping so.
-- Topsy Siderowf