When a room full of teenage girls stow their respective cell phones and give you their full attention, well, you know you’re onto something.
And that, says Clarissa Childs, was precisely the effect that a group of Legends Tour players had on a group of high school golfers last month during a pre-tournament dinner at the Women’s South Carolina Golf Association Junior Golf Foundation High School Invitational and Mentoring Weekend.
“They were engaged, they were in awe, maybe some light bulbs went on (where they thought), ‘Wait a second, this golf could take me somewhere,’” said Childs, executive director of the WSCGA. “It was really fun to see.”
After dinner, of course, the players “took a gazillion pictures with everybody.” All the better to remember the weekend. Even though this event has been on the WSCGA calendar for the better part of two decades, it has never been quite like this before, and that’s thanks to Rosie Jones’ influence.
Jones, 13-time LPGA Tour winner and former Solheim Cup captain, has mentored players on and off for the past few years. She often picks up a player in junior high, guiding them forward into the game as they move through high school, college and eventually out into the world. It’s less about working with their swing – in fact, Jones even advises them to find someone else to do that – as it is working with the whole player, from attitude to course management.
Jones was looking to make a bigger impact in this way, and that’s how she wound up adopting the WSCGA’s high school tournament and bringing in a crew of fellow Legends Tour players to exert even more influence on female high school golfers.
“I love working with this age group. They’re at the perfect time to really make that impact that you’re trying to just give them confidence to keep going.” — Rosie Jones
The WSCGA-JGF High School Invitational, played Sept. 30-Oct. 1 at Moss Creek Club in Hilton Head, South Carolina, features the top 15 teams and top 12 individuals not on those teams from around the state of South Carolina. The field is selected in August based on the previous year’s state championships, as well as summer competition.
The two-day tournament included a mentoring dinner and plenty of opportunity for the high school players to get advice, swing tips and positive encouragement from the handful of Legends players in attendance, including Jackie Gallagher-Smith, Cathy Johnston-Forbes, Leta Lindley, Michelle McGann, and Hollis Stacy.
Jones had been vaguely aware of the event but didn’t get involved until this fall, when she moved the event to her home club of Moss Creek.
Jones and her team brainstormed all the different moments in which they could inject the Legends players into the weekend. At the mentoring dinner, Jones said players were separated among sponsors, Legends players and VIPs, giving them maximum opportunity to soak up the stories and skills of those in attendance. Jones said several of the players started out a little shy and focused their questions on things like practice time – something they can relate to at this point in their career.
Jones made sure the talking points included goal-setting, positive affirmations and appreciating how tough it is to win in this sport, as well as how much players can learn from the game even if they don’t plan to play competitively past high school.
“Our goal was to let them know that the tools that you have from the game of golf are going to help you no matter what you do – in your family, your jobs, your opportunities going forward,” Jones said. “They’re just soaking it in, and you could see them nodding their heads and thinking to themselves, ‘Yeah, I do that. I need to get better at that.’ It’s really fun. I love working with this age group. They’re at the perfect time to really make that impact that you’re trying to just give them confidence to keep going.”
Childs thinks there was a bit of a learning curve for the Legends players on hand, too. She put them to work as starters and in the scoring tent and had to talk them out of some nerves that went along with the roles.
“I encourage them to mentor the younger players on their team. Take them aside and show them something that you know they can do better or to talk to them to encourage them about how they played today and how the team needs you tomorrow.” — Rosie Jones
Childs, too, wore multiple hats in the event as the administrator and also as one of the Legends players offering some mentorship to the players in the field. Many of the girls attending didn’t know she had played professionally.
“To be honest I think that’s the first time that most of them and their parents even knew that I played on the senior tour and I played in the Senior LPGA Championship and finished seventh,” she said, laughing. “They’re like, why didn’t you tell us? I’m like, well I’m here as the administrator.”
Proceeds from the tournament will help boost many of the Junior Golf Foundation’s assistance programs, such as scholarships and reimbursements for tournament entry fees and golf lessons. Next year’s tournament is already on the books for fall 2024 at Moss Creek, with Jones on board to continue her massive mentoring role.
The mentorship Jones is giving back now is in large part a reflection of the attention she got from fellow players like Nancy Lopez and Kathy Whitworth, who were both from New Mexico, just like Jones. It was the late Whitworth who helped Jones on the road the most and taught her to hit certain shots. Joanne Carner did the same – with one shot in particular.
“It would just be really heavy grass right around the green – it was this little just dropped sand wedge, just to pop it out,” Jones remembered. “Oh my god, I would stop her once a week for about a month. She’d be on her way to her tee and I’m like, ‘Big Mama, Big Mama, stop! Show me that shot one more time.’”
Carner would always stop, ribbing her a little bit, but Jones knows that she won tournaments later in her career with that little shot.
And just as Jones is paying forward some of that kindness, she encourages the younger players to always look out for the girl coming up behind her, too.
“I encourage them to mentor the younger players on their team,” she said. “Take them aside and show them something that you know they can do better or talk to them to encourage them about how they played today and how the team needs you tomorrow.”
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