Building blocks in place for another strong wave of junior girls golfers on First Coast

Building blocks in place for another strong wave of junior girls golfers on First Coast

amerliabuildingAmelia Lewis has been on the golf tour for seven weeks in a row, including stops in Virginia, Canada, Seattle and Portland.  But Jacksonville’s lone LPGA Tour representative took the time during a rare week off to play in upper-90s heat on Wednesday at the Golf Club of South Hampton in the North Florida Junior Golf Foundation-Northern Chapter PGA Pro-Junior.

An easy decision, the Bolles graduate said.

Lewis played with four NFJG players: her 13-year-old sister Tiffany, plus 12-year-olds Tylar Ann Whiting and Sofia Percorarl and 14-year-old Isabel Matos. In the relaxed “shamble” format, it was hard to tell who was enjoying the day more, Lewis, the seven-year professional veteran or her teammates.  She gave the juniors tips when they asked, lined them up for shots, helped read their putts and seemed to have a word of encouragement for every player’s shot — regardless of the direction.

 “This is fun … this isn’t mentally taxing,” said Lewis, who has recorded two top-15 finishes in recent weeks to climb to 97th on the LPGA money list. “This is a fun day of golf. It’s what I enjoy doing. I was looking forward to this.”

Lewis and 15 area club professionals and teachers played with foursomes of juniors. Eleven of the players were girls.  Lewis said providing support for junior girls golf is a sacred duty within the LPGA. The organization’s national Girls Golf program, which began in 1989 — eight years before The First Tee was formed by the World Golf Foundation — reaches more than 50,000 girls at 300 facilities nationwide.

“It’s wonderful how much time, energy and money the LPGA putts into it,” Lewis said. “A lot of players donate their time to growing girls golf. It’s one of their main priorities and they’re doing a great job.”

Lewis played junior and high school golf during a strong era for girls in the sport on the First Coast. Lewis signed with the University of Florida, just one of a parade of area players who made it to some of the top NCAA Division 1 programs in the nation.  Also among that contingent were Brittany Nelson (Florida), Catherine O’Donnell (North Carolina), Irene Jung (Duke), Katie Mitchell (Louisville), Kaitlyn Price (Central Florida), Emily Tillo (Boston University), Sarah Knapp (Dartmouth), Rachel Blum (Princeton) and Mia Zanghetti (William & Mary).  There’s evidence that the building blocks for another such wave are in place. NFJG tournament coordinator Kevin Glynn said it’s been a banner year for junior girls participation, with 40 girls in the foundation and 20 playing during any given tournament.

“It’s been our best participation for girls players in the last 10 years,” Glynn said.

The organization isn’t the only opportunity for girls junior players. North Florida Girls Golf, which began in 2013 and offers clinics and stress-free nine-hole scrambles geared to beginners, is operating at 11 area facilities.  The PGA Junior League Golf, which has teams at more than two dozen area courses and clubs, also appeals to girls because of the social aspect of being on a team.  Lewis said any opportunity to attract girls to the game should be taken, with an emphasis on alternative formats and stress-free approaches.

“Get the girls together, have them bring their friends and don’t make it hard at first,” Lewis said. “It’s going to be hard enough down the road. Teachers and club pros should make it all about having fun. Girls are more social than boys so you’ve got to do whatever it takes to keep them coming back.”

………  read the full article at Jacksonville.com by Garry Smits