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The Pros and Cons of Turning Pro

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA |  Age is just a number, they say, and usually they are trying to convince themselves they are younger than time would indicate. But these days in women’s golf, a growing group is attempting just the opposite – making believe that the number doesn’t matter, that they are really old enough to make a living chasing the LPGA Tour.

The most conspicuous absentee from this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur was 15-year-old Alexis Thompson, who turned pro earlier this year after the Curtis Cup. Not only didn’t Thompson graduate from college, she barely darkened the doors of high school before starting her new job, although, like most teenagers, it’s part-time at present.

Those who might have questioned the decision are suddenly strangely silent after Thompson took residence on the leaderboard for much of the middle of the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing tied for 10th and after she finished tied for second at the Evian Masters in France on the LPGA Tour in July. So, this summer job has netted Thompson more than $300,000, which beats working at Starbucks.

At the U.S. Women’s Open, at Charlotte Country Club, the quarterfinalists represented a broad spectrum of the women’s game, ranging from college graduates to high school seniors. Most had no sense of urgency to follow Thompson’s lead and leap to the tour.

Sydnee Michaels graduated from UCLA in the spring with a degree in history. She is going to become a professional in a couple of weeks and will enter Q-School in the fall. Unlike Thompson, Michaels believes she needed every bit of the four years she spent in college to prepare her for the Tour.

“I wasn’t ready to turn pro and I knew it,” said Michaels, who won the Canadian Women’s Amateur two weeks ago and lost to Jennifer Kirby in 19 holes in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. “I needed those years to develop my game. I’ve improved in a lot of ways that I might not have had the luxury to do if I had been playing on Tour and trying to make a living.

“Not even so much in golf, but based on an overall maturity level, I think I’m going to be able to handle things much better and be much more mature since I’ve gone through four years of school. I needed that four years. I needed to grow up and I know my game so much better.”

Stephanie Sherlock of Canada also has a college degree. Hers is in business administration from the University of Denver and she will enter Q-School in the fall as an amateur. If she doesn’t make it, she will try to make Canada’s World Amateur team as her final amateur event.

“I signed on to play on our team at the beginning of the year,” Sherlock said. “They treat us awesome and we get to work with some really great people. So, it’s a privilege to play on this team. I might as well play one more year of really great amateur tournaments.”

Junthima Gulyanamitta is entering her senior year at Purdue and she wouldn’t think of turning pro without her diploma.

“I just feel like I have to have something with me,” she said. “You can’t be sure of your future. What’s going to happen if you can’t play golf one day? I need to have my degree.”

Danielle Kang, who won the U.S. Girls Junior this summer, is in her freshman year at Pepperdine and has no designs whatsoever to turn pro.

“I want to play college golf,” Kang said. “There’s no way I’m ready for the Tour.”

But one 17-year-old is going to stick a big toe in the water this fall. Jessica Korda will enter the LPGA Qualifying Tournament as an amateur before making a decision to turn pro. If she doesn’t make it, she’s on to her senior year in high school.

Korda is the daughter of former professional tennis player Petr Korda, who won the 1998 Australian Open. She (((made to the semifinals, made it to the final, won))) the U.S. Women’s Amateur, reached the quarterfinals of the 2009 Women’s Am and has made the cut in the last two U.S. Opens.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Q-School,” said the 5-foot-11 Korda, one of the longest drivers at the Women’s Amateur. “I hope to make it all the way and will make a decision. Both my parents are very supportive of me trying this. I’m only a senior in high school so nothing bad can happen.”

Petr Korda was 18 when he turned pro, so he has some idea of what his daughter might face. And he has offered up his experience.

“It’s two different sports and two different times,” Jessica says. “But some of the things he shares are helpful.”

Korda and Thompson are good friends and Jessica is more than supportive. “I think she made a really great decision and I’m 100 percent behind her,” Korda said. Even to the point where she thought the 15-year-old was mature enough to handle Tour life.

“If you talk to her, you’d think she was 17,” Korda said.

Why, that’s positively ancient.


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