If someone asked me what’s one word I’d use to describe what golf means to me, without hesitating I’d know the answer: family.
Family is how I got my start in the game, how I grew in the game and how I continue to get support. From the beginning, golf was a family affair for me. My parents, brother and I would play together and, being a competitive family, it really helped me develop my game while spending time together.
But I didn’t grow up a country club kid. We were always looking for affordable options, whether it was courses that offered free play for kids with paying adults or courses with junior rates.
Not everyone has access to those types of programs, or the ability to always play with adults. That’s something that I want to help change in the sport. Your financial situation shouldn’t hinder your ability to play this great game, especially as a kid. It shouldn’t prevent you from being a part of the golf family.
While I didn’t have the ability to play high-priced tournaments as a junior golfer or travel across the country for exposure to college recruiters, I was fortunate to have opportunities that were available close to home. The Colorado Golf Association has had a huge impact on my playing career. With a great junior program and events that give girls the same challenges as the boys, I was able to grow as a player without the hefty price tag.
The two other organizations that helped me get to where I am today: the USGA and Augusta National.
USGA events truly are open to all. You don’t need a stacked resume of big-time tournaments to get into the field, you just have to be able to play the game. If you can get through a qualifier, the U.S. Junior events are a game-changer. I was able to play in college because of those events and think every kid trying to play collegiate golf should set their sights on those championships. They really open the doors to everything.
During my last year at Wake Forest, I was able to play in the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Growing up, I had never thought playing there was even an option, and then I became the winner of the first female event at one of golf’s most historic courses.
The event was a great display of amateur women’s golf for young girls, whether they’re playing golf already or watching it on television for the first time. For them to see the way everything played out, with the friendship that Maria and I have, it really encourages girls to pick up a club. The tournament showed them that golf is truly for everyone by making it accessible for girls of all ages from all backgrounds. To see us be able to do it on the biggest stage, Augusta National, was huge.
I still had college tournaments left after ANWA, but it was the end of my amateur golf and then the beginning of my professional career, moving me from one chapter of my life to another. ANWA really helped me be comfortable playing in front of crowds, and it helped me calm my nerves under pressure.
While I didn’t get into golf to be a role model, I understand that the opportunities I’ve had and the position I’m now in gives me the platform and tools to pay it forward. It’s still early in my career, but I have more than I ever thought I would and it’s important for me to help other kids with similar backgrounds. The only way the game of golf will continue to grow and thrive is by giving everyone the chance to play, no matter where you’re from or how much money your family has.
Recently, a friend at the Colorado Golf Association told me about Youth on Course and I couldn’t believe an organization like this was available. I’ve been wanting to do something like this – give kids accessibility to golf in an affordable way. From $5 rounds at over a thousand courses across the country to off-the-course opportunities like scholarships and internships, it’s really all right there for the taking.
I’m so proud to be joining forces with Youth on Course to become their second national ambassador. Our goals are the same: to provide kids affordable access to the game. The organization has over 115,000 members of junior golfers who have played over one million rounds of golf and I am so excited to help continue to grow these numbers.
Partnering with Youth on Course is giving another kid a chance to play golf that might not have otherwise been able to. It’s opening the doors to this great game and giving another kid with a different background a start, a growth opportunity and a support system.
Because in golf, we’re all family.