I've never met Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, the 13-year-old twins
who last week accepted invitations to play in the LPGA's first
major, the Nabisco Championship, but I know what they are going
through. In 1967, when I was only nine, my dad made me turn pro
and I became the youngest person ever to play in an LPGA
tournament. I played in three regular events and the U.S. Open--my
best finish was 44th and I earned $131--before the tour determined
that kids like me didn't belong.
Like so many child prodigies, I had no balance in my life and no
grip on my identity. I knew Beverly the golfer, but not Beverly
the person. Mommy and Daddy loved me when I performed well, but
when I did poorly, Daddy didn't like me, to the point of yelling
abusively on the course and whipping me with a belt until my back
Today I'm writing a book about my life, and I teach golf to lots
of kids. I always tell their parents about what happened to me.
It's not healthy to have a family's life revolve around a child's
golf career because it pushes everything else into the
background. If my two sisters wanted to go to the beach, they had
to wait until I had practiced. Total immersion in golf also left
me ill-prepared for adulthood. I'm Forrest Gump in reverse.
Nevertheless, I'm optimistic about Aree's and Naree's chances for
success. Amazingly, their parents seem to have maintained balance
in their children's lives while nurturing the girls' golf to the
fullest. The kids are big and strong, and they're built for
battle on the tour. My most important advice to them is this: No
matter what happens on the course, remember that you're people
first and golfers second.
Beverly Klass, 43, is the head teaching pro at Turtle Bay Golf
Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.