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Junior girls golf awaits its Tiger

Published Sep. 29, 2005

Andia Winslow is resting here at home this week, taking a breather before heading back onto the American Junior Golf Association circuit, the nation's highest level of junior golf, late next week.

She knows exactly what to expect when she gets to her next tournament: The strongest junior competition in the country. Hole-to-hole pressure. And a field that will include no one else like her.

"I know," Winslow said. "I've already checked the entry list."

Winslow, 16, is arguably the top minority junior girls golfer on a national list that's noticeably short. Only two or three others regularly compete in national AJGA events.

The stardom of Tiger Woods has done wonders for minority golf, exposing the game to a wider and more diverse audience. But it obviously hasn't reached far enough.

Exact numbers aren't readily available, but several junior golf organizations agree that participation among minorities is up. But they also agree on this: The majority of the increase is not among girls.

National Minority Golf Foundation officials estimate there were about 10 minority boys and girls regularly playing AJGA tournaments last year, and two or three were girls. This year, there are about 30, but less than five are girls.

The picture is the same in the Tampa Bay area. Area experts such as Mike Cooper, who runs Urban Junior Golf in Tampa, report increases among minorities, but not girls.

On the LPGA Tour, there are no full-time minority players. One player, LaRee Sugg, has made spot appearances, but that's it.

"There aren't a lot of them, but there aren't a lot of (junior) girls, in general, either," NMGF vice president Barbara Douglas said by telephone from the foundation's offices in Phoenix. "You get to a certain age and you lose them. As girls move from adolescence into teens, their self-confidence and appearance become more evident to them and they become self-conscious. Their interest moves to other kinds of things.

"They may be into it at 12, 13, 14. But at 15 and 16, something happens."

Whatever is happening needs to be addressed if we're going to cultivate all of our best young golf talent.

How many more young pros like Kelli Kuehne, Beth Bauer and Cristie Kerr could we have if we tapped into all of our resources?

We are reaching some of them. People such as Winslow (a 3-handicapper), Erica Battle, 14, of South Carolina (second place at Ohio AJGA event), and the Fernandez sisters, Mary and Christine, of suburban Las Vegas (single-digit handicappers).

But more needs to be done to develop minority girls who aren't as accomplished, the ones who roam about public courses with plenty of desire but little direction. There are any number of programs aimed at inner-city kids, but more emphasis by parents and the golf community should be placed on targeting middle-class and upper-class minorities.

"If a black woman did what Tiger Woods did," said Winslow, who got her start when her mother took her to a local junior golf clinic when she was 9, "then I think you would see more girls playing golf."

Therein lies the quandary: How do you get a female version of Tiger Woods if young minority girls aren't playing much golf?

While the golf community tries to figure that out, Andia continues to buck the trend, enjoying competing against whomever the competition is, but sadly unsure if its complexion will change soon.

"It's going to be the same thing," Winslow said of being the only minority girl at future AJGA events. "I just think it's something that's going to happen the rest of my life."