My Shot Teenage pros are common in many sports, and they soon will be in golf too

August 19, 2001

Whether a talented teenage golfer should stay in school or turn
pro has been hotly debated in recent weeks after 17-year-old
Kevin Na said that he was dropping out of high school to enter
the PGA Tour's Q school and U.S. Girls' Junior champion Nicole
Perrot, also 17, said she'd turn pro soon. Many people are
outraged that these kids are going pro, but I'm not. Other pro
sports are full of teenagers, so why not golf? Besides, how can
the critics presume to make life decisions for people they don't
know?

When I dropped out of the 10th grade in 1950 to join the LPGA at
age 16, many of my parents' friends said Mom and Dad were nuts,
but turning pro was the best decision we ever made. I was a
straight-A student, and I knew what I wanted to do with my
life--be a golfer--and that I would continue my education
outside the classroom. My parents and I traveled around the
country in a 22-foot Airstream trailer, and I spent my free time
devouring books.

Society is obsessed with traditional guidelines, but tradition is
for people who don't think for themselves or maximize their
abilities. Talent shouldn't be squelched because of age. If a
young golfer is mature and has a family that will support him, he
should be allowed to go pro. Who says teenagers are too immature
to cope with the rigors of tour life? I know lots of juvenile
40-year-olds.

The PGA Tour doesn't have an age requirement. The LPGA requires
members to be 18 or older, but a girl 15 or older can petition
the commissioner to waive that requirement, and he'll be asked to
do so if the Wongluekiet twins, Aree and Naree, who are 15, turn
pro. I met the Wongluekiets at this year's Nabisco Championship,
and they were polite, poised and chaperoned by their parents.
Their talent is otherworldly, so I see no reason for them to
remain amateurs and put their games and earning potential on
hold.

We'll see lots more kids going pro. Some will succeed and some
will fail. That's not good or bad. It's a fact of life.

Marlene Hagge, 67, was the youngest LPGA member in history.

COLOR PHOTO: TODD BIGELOW/AURORA

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)