LPGA Tour winner has a burgeoning teaching business.
One of her clients is 16-year-old Christine Wong of Richmond, and when the two spend time together Wyatt can’t help but do a little reminiscing about her own days as a junior golfer.
Wyatt was good enough to win the 1984 B.C. Junior Girls Championship, so she obviously had considerable game as a teenager. But when the now 42-year-old watches Wong hit balls and sees the depth of talent on the junior golf scene in British Columbia today, Wyatt just shakes her head in amazement.
“Oh, my God,” she says. “The amount of players for one thing and the amount of really good players is amazing. It’s just staggering how good they are at such a young age.
“Christine is 16 and I think back to when I was 16, I had just maybe that season or at the end of the previous season, just broken 80 for the first time. You were really good if you were breaking 80 in those days. So it’s just unreal.”
Wong broke 80 a long, long time ago and shot a course record nine-under 64 at Kelowna Golf & Country Club during the recent B.C. Summer Games. Last summer, at age 15, she finished second at the Canadian Junior Girls Championship in London, Ont., and last month tied for third at the B.C. Junior Girls Championship in Courtenay.
That event was won by junior sensation Sue Kim, who finished the 54-hole event with a 54-hole total of 12-under par.
On Friday, Wong tied for fourth at this year’s Canadian Junior tourney in Winnipeg, which was won in a playoff by SooBin Kim of Port .
Wong and Kim are just two examples of the increasing numbers of elite junior golfers being produced in B.C.
Kris Jonasson, executive director of the B.C. Golf Association, has no doubt that B.C. is developing many of Canada’s top junior players.
“I don’t think there is any question about it,” he says. “I have been here now for 12 years and I think we have won the Canadian Junior championship at least eight of the last 12 years. And our junior team wins it on almost an annual basis and that is both boys and girls. I don’t think there’s any doubt we have the best junior program in the whole country in terms of developing talent.”
One of the biggest differences between today’s juniors and those of Wyatt’s generation is the amount of tournament golf they get to play.
When she was a junior golfer, Wyatt didn’t tee it up in many tournaments. She played nearly every day most summers at Quilchena, but her tournament golf was limited mainly to the annual B.C. Junior Girls tourney and occasional club events.
“That’s the other thing that is so different is the amount of tournaments they have,” Wyatt says.
Some of today’s juniors are teeing it up in tournaments nearly every week during the summer. In addition to the various zone tournaments run by the B.C. Golf Association and events like the B.C. Junior, Juvenile and Bantam championships, juniors can also choose from events on two privately run tours, the Canadian Junior Golf Association and the Vancouver-based Leaf Tour, as well as the American Junior Golf Association south of the border.
Longtime local pro Murray Poje started the Leaf Tour 10 years ago when he recognized that many juniors weren’t getting the competition they needed to improve their games.
“The reason I got into this was 10 years ago there were 250 kids registered for the B.C. Junior who couldn’t get in because their handicap wasn’t low enough,” Poje says. “That’s when the light went on because they didn’t have many decent tournaments to play in.”
These days, junior golfers can fill their summers with tournament golf.
“So these kids are learning to get over their tournament fear way earlier,” Wyatt says. “That is what you are seeing now on the LPGA Tour — 19-year-olds are winning. They don’t know how hard it is anymore.”
In some respects, the junior girls’ golf scene in B.C. is a reflection of what is happening on the LPGA Tour. It is largely dominated by girls of Asian descent — many of them Korean.
They start playing young. At last month’s B.C. Women’s Amateur Championship in Williams Lake, for example, the field included 12-year-old Jisoo Keel of . She fired a one-under 72 in the final round to finish tied for 14th place.
Doug Roxburgh, the 13-time B.C. Amateur Championship winner who is now director of high performance programs with the Royal Canadian Golf Association, is impressed with the depth of junior golf talent in B.C. But Roxburgh and others also have concerns. Roxburgh thinks some juniors play too much tournament golf.
“We have to make sure they are working on skill development and having fun as well as competing and it’s not just parents saying ‘here’s where you are playing this weekend,’ that type of thing,” Roxburgh says. “There has to be a balance.”
Phil Jonas, a former PGA Tour and Canadian Tour regular, is now one of the Lower Mainland’s busiest instructors. His clientele is largely comprised of junior golfers.
“There are certain days, especially at McCleery, when I don’t teach any adults,” says Jonas.”A lot of these kids come with technically very good swings. And a lot of them play schedules almost like pro schedules. I bet you some of these kids, or their parents, spend more money than I did when I was playing on the Tour.”
The depth of talent on the junior boys’ side in B.C. is even more impressive than among the girls.
“We have some great young girls, but we just don’t have the numbers on the girls side,” Roxburgh says. “The number of girls in the game is a concern for everyone. There are just too many competing interests. On the girls side the quality is good, it’s just the quantity isn’t there.”
That’s not a problem on the boys’ side, where a full field of 156 players teed it up at Rivershore Golf Links in Kamloops at last month’s B.C. Junior Boys’ Championship. North Vancouver’s Eugene Wong, who won the 2007 Canadian Juvenile Championship, emerged the winner and then went on to win both the prestigious Callaway Junior Worlds in San Diego and the B.C. Amateur Championship at Marine Drive.
The goal for most of this province’s elite juniors is to earn a golf scholarship to a major U.S. university. Eugene Wong, 17, is off to the University of Oregon this fall on a full scholarship and that’s certainly what Christine Wong (no relation) hopes to do. Her top 20 finish at last month’s Junior Worlds likely caught the attention of some of the large number of college coaches who attend the event. Last week, Wong won the Junior Americas Cup competition in Calgary.
Super 8 Hotels Winnipeg Highway # 1