Spring 2017

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T he LPGA Tour is probably the most diverse professional sports league on the planet, play- ing a global schedule and boasting a member- ship that speaks more than a dozen languages and ranges in age from teens to grandmas. So what can junior girls learn from the LPGA play- ers' varied journeys? I asked a handful of prominent players this very question. "The thing that kids have to understand is that every- one has a different path, and that's okay," says Christina Kim, a three-time winner on tour. "If you want to make it to the NFL, there is a blueprint you follow: high school star, play for a big college, get drafted. It's easy. In golf, we're all making it up as we go along." Kim played very few big-time amateur events grow- ing up, spending her time mostly on the range with her dad, the only instructor she has ever had. "Some kids do better playing lots of golf, learning to score, learning to manage their game, learning to hit different shots in different conditions," she says. "I was more focused on mastering the technical aspects. I felt if I could master the swing I could translate that to any course and any situation." Brittany Lincicome, twice a winner of the Dinah Shore, has an entirely different approach. "I hate prac- ticing," she says with a laugh. "Well, I hate standing at the driving range – that's not what real golf feels like to me. I get a lot more out of playing 18 holes and having the pressure of having to hit shots with actual targets. I see a lot of young players now standing on the range for hours at a time but I'm not sure what they're accomplishing. And it's a lot more fun to go play with your friends." Balancing work and fun is one of the toughest challenges for any young athlete, especially in golf, which seems to attract highly-motivated kids who are comfortable being alone. Sandra Gal, twice a member of Europe's Solheim Cup team, learned to play golf on family vacations and has always tried to hold on to that sense of carefree adventure as her amateur career progressed. "If I was practicing, or playing, and I felt bored or like I wanted to be somewhere else I knew it was time to take a break from golf," Gal says. "The number one thing I tell young golfers is never let it feel like a job. It's better to take breaks from the game so the desire builds up. Don't over-practice, don't overwork yourself. And don't let a parent or coach push you in that direction, either. You have to safeguard the love you have for the game, even if that means playing less." As young competitors keep striving, there may come a time when they have to make tough decisions about their future. Kim turned pro out of high school and honed her game on the Symetra Tour – women's golf's minor leagues, where the money is minimal and the competition fierce. Jane Park, a 10-year LPGA veteran, took a very different route, focusing on big USGA events like the Girls' Junior (where she made it to the finals) and the U.S. Women's Amateur (which she won in 2004). Com- ing out of high school her game was mature enough for the LPGA but she wanted to experience college life so she matriculated to UCLA. "I see a lot of talented young girls and they are soooo focused on nothing but golf," says Park. "I don't think that's healthy. You need to be a well-rounded person and you need to live a little. Because once you come out on the LPGA, it's serious business." Danielle Kang, a two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champ, echoes that theme in urging younger girls not to focus exclusively on golf. "I grew up playing all sports, and I think that was important. It makes you a more well-rounded athlete and it keeps you from burning out. When I was a kid, I was actually more focused on taekwondo [in which she earned a black belt by age seven]. That gave me so much core strength and flexi- bility and coordination, so after that swinging a golf club felt easy." All of these players have lived their dream and made it to the LPGA, but they stress that should not be the goal for young girls. "The best thing about golf is the friendships you make and how much you learn about yourself," says Park. "Maybe it will help you get a college education, or maybe it will help you later in your business career, or maybe you'll make it all the way to the LPGA tour, but all of that is just a bonus. Just have fun playing the game and see where it takes you." 18 SPRING 2017 | WWW.NCGA.ORG O N T H E B E A T Sharing LPGA Wisdom with Juniors BY ALAN SHIPNUCK

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