She became the apple of his eye.
That was inevitable for Kristen Pitts. This 17-year-old senior golfer at Mitchell High School was destined to be like her dad: local golf shop owner and course fixture, Steve Pitts. Almost everyone knows his name, and since Kristen started taking her game seriously her sophomore year, her's is pretty well known too.
"He always really wanted me and my sister (Stephanie) to play," Kristen said. "I think she played for him more through high school, but I played for me, because I wanted to play. I never realized how much fun it really was until I got out there and even if you're making bogeys, you want to go out and try to not make bogeys."
Stephanie, now a student at the University of Central Florida, played four years at Mitchell. At the time, the sisters didn't get along. That's why Kristen now regrets passing up the chance to play with her sister when she was a freshman. Steve felt Kristen then saw the success Stephanie had and decided to give it another try. So she learned the rules of golf and played more and more. She also started to play weekly with Steve. Every Sunday, father and daughter have match play against better golfers, usually men.
And Kristen hangs right with them, even hitting from the back tees.
"She's like a younger version of me," Steve said. "It's like seeing yourself reincarnated and she's even more like a buddy I always play with. It's your own flesh and blood and she's you on the course or in a round.
"I really can't explain the feeling of seeing her on the course next to me."
Megan and Rebecca Van Etten get all the attention at Mitchell. They have the best scores, and because of it, all the awards. Kristen doesn't let it bother her too much, but as a senior for the upcoming fall season, she will become a leader.
"She's going to be vocal — like Steve, she's not shy," Mitchell coach Joe Castellano said. "She has really worked hard on her game for the last year and half. Ever since her sophomore year, she's gotten better. So she's going to be one of three seniors we're going to rely on. She'll be a real focal point."
Castellano admits it's hard to overlook the Van Etten sisters, but with them and Kristen on the team, he has a "dynamic" squad. Castellano thinks of it this way: with other teams so worried about the Van Ettens, they don't notice Kristen sneaking along with a solid score.
"She can fly under the radar and all of a sudden there she is in good shape," Castellano said. "Only a few people know her because of Steve, not realizing until much later who she is. That's a good thing to have."
Kristen has improved her game so much, she might have a chance to play at Florida Gulf Coast University. Castellano and company pinpoint one reason she got better: playing against better players (mostly men) with her dad.
"I learned from my dad that it's not good to push someone into a sport just because you love it," Steve said. "It just seemed like something clicked. The first time I watched her golf, she got her butt kicked in match play, but from then on, she was in love with the game.
Growing up around golf, as Kristen her sister did, is the easy way to explain the passion for the game. Sure, it was also helpful that Kristen can get any equipment she needs at her dad's shop, from new irons, to the plastic clubs Steve bought her when she was little.
But the love of the game, genetic or not, made her a dedicated player.
"I am pretty competitive," Kristen said. "I really want to work on my game this summer and I really want to break 80 because I've never done that. I find myself always wanting to get better, and even if my playing doesn't go farther in college, I still want to be around golf. Teach or something. Anything with golf."
Community Sports Editor Mike Camunas can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 544-1771.