The yr is 2012 and the stars of the present are 1,500 seven and eight-year-old golf prodigies representing 60 totally different international locations, all vying for an opportunity to grow to be a U.S. Kids World Champion on the daunting Pinehurst course.

When it was launched in 2013, Augusta National had solely simply accepted its first two female members the earlier yr in former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier and philanthropist Darla Moore.

Junior golfers (age six to 17) within the US now whole greater than three million with multiple million women, rising from 25% of the full in 2010 to 34% final yr, in accordance to the National Golf Foundation.

Pano stands atop the podium after winning the Regional Finals Girls 7-9 section of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition.Pano stands atop the podium after winning the Regional Finals Girls 7-9 section of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition.

On an analogous upward curve are Californian Amari Avery and Floridian Alexa Pano, now aged 17 and 16, who received at Pinehurst of their respective USK classes again in 2012. Nine years later, each made the 82-player ANWA area.

“I want to be the first woman to play a tournament at Augusta. Girls are just as good as boys,” says a measured Pano after we first meet her within the Netflix documentary — the woman who’s filmed practising within the rain then shivering as a result of she’s freezing.

She’s the final to depart the vary.

Avery is filmed doing push-ups and sit-ups together with her dad Andre and sister Alona for firm. She’s now heading to the University of Southern California subsequent yr on a golf scholarship and is aware of the that means of laborious yards.

“You can be a child prodigy and have all the talent in the world, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t put in the work,” she informed NCS Sport over the telephone earlier than successful the inaugural Mack Champ Invitational in Houston in March, an occasion arrange by PGA Tour star Cameron Champ for the sport’s greatest junior golfers from numerous backgrounds.

“I’ve not had to live up to any expectations. I’m my own person away from ‘The Short Game.’ I loved being in it, but I want to be spoken about for winning a big tournament.”

Although neither participant made the Saturday finale at Augusta within the 54-hole occasion — the primary two rounds happen at close by Champions Retreat earlier than a apply spherical for all opponents at Augusta on the Friday — they’ve time on their facet.

Pano, the youngest competitor this yr, simply as she was in 2019 when she additionally missed the lower, has added motivation to return subsequent yr.

Pano walks off the 1st tee during the Junior Solheim Cup.Pano walks off the 1st tee during the Junior Solheim Cup.

Missing the lower and grandmother’s Mentos

Already twice a Drive, Chip and Putt winner at Augusta, Pano missed the ANWA lower because the youngest participant within the 2019 area and thus missed the prospect to play aggressive golf on the undulating structure.

Even although she was ready to play Augusta in a apply spherical, the crowds on the weekend set her aggressive fires alight as she watched the then top-ranked novice, Jennifer Kupcho, play her ultimate six holes in five-under par to be topped the inaugural champion.

“It was something unlike I’d ever seen in women’s golf. It was super motivating to want to come back this year,” Pano informed NCS Sport over the telephone from the Gainbridge LPGA in February, earlier than a apply spherical within the week girls’s golf icon and International Golf Federation president Annika Sorenstam made her first aggressive look in 13 years.

The present momentum round girls’s golf is maybe one thing Pano’s grandmother — seen in “The Short Game” superstitiously clutching a packet of Mentos to deliver the teenager luck — noticed on the horizon earlier than she died in 2013, simply after a fourth USK World Championship title for her granddaughter.

“She wanted to watch Alexa compete in a tournament someday at Augusta,” Pano’s devoted father Rick informed NCS Sport in an e mail.

“Alexa told her she was already in the first Drive, Chip and Putt. Her grandmother said: ‘No, there will someday be a women’s tournament at Augusta.’

“That was 5 years earlier than the ANWA was introduced. The ANWA is by far the largest factor that is ever occurred in golf for females.”

The 2019 tournament was the most viewed amateur golf event in the US since 2003 and the most-watched women’s golf event since 2016.

“I believe we are going to have some actually nice impact down the highway. It has been terrific,” said Sorenstam after Kupcho’s well-known win.
Pano in action during the Junior Solheim Cup. Pano in motion throughout the Junior Solheim Cup.

Pano has been exposed to the biggest stage from a very young age, playing the 2016 Yonex Ladies Open in Japan aged 11, the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic aged 13, and the U.S. Women’s Open aged 14.

She’s been impressed by the likes of Kathy Whitworth — whose 88 LPGA Tour wins outshine Tiger Woods’ and Sam Snead’s 82 within the males’s recreation — however like so many ladies, she desires extra from golf.

“I can not complain as a result of I’ve had wonderful experiences within the girls’s recreation, however there are so many issues that may be improved or extra equal.

“I think everyone out here has had to overcome their own battle, and all that any woman golfer wants is for the attention to be on their golf. Not how they’re dressed.”

Avery says she’s realized quite a bit from “mentor” Carlota Ciganda — the European Solheim Cup winner who she performed alongside because the Spaniard triumphed on the Cactus Tour in late February 2020.

The following week, Avery received her first skilled event on the identical tour, the place Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov regained some type earlier than her career breakthrough moment.

“I think women’s golf needs a bit of help because there aren’t many people watching,” added Avery.

“But I’d love to bring some conversation to the table about women’s golf. In future, when I’m done playing, I still want to be a part of it on the business side and help it along.”

Avery hits her drive on the 12th tee during the final round of the Annika Invitational.Avery hits her drive on the 12th tee during the final round of the Annika Invitational.

Pop stars

Avery listens to upbeat music, likes rapper Drake, mentions Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka as a result of she follows tennis “like crazy” and has loved cooking throughout the pandemic.

There’s a superstitious streak in her household too. If you are on the lookout for good omens, she shares a December 30 birthday with five-time Masters champion Woods whereas her initials — ANA — have introduced previous success at ANA Inspiration host course Mission Hills in California.

It all bodes properly for the longer term, as does the W in ANWA after a promising debut — she made the five-way playoff for the ultimate spot at Augusta however narrowly missed out.

“The W stands for winner (trophy emoji),” says her proud father in an upbeat WhatsApp message.

Avery lines up a putt. Avery lines up a putt.

Meanwhile, Pano jokes that Adele’s music is “clean enough to play with my Dad” however there is a deeper that means behind listening to the British celebrity.

“I feel like every event I’ve won, this one Adele song would play: Set Fire to the Rain. So that song really resonates with me.”

And their love for Adele is not the one connection between golf and music.

Enter former One Direction singer Niall Horan.

Alongside Englishman Mark McDonnell, Irishman Horan co-founded Modest! Golf to assist diversify and clean up the game.

Having grown up with Justin Rose and little question tapping into the 2016 Olympic champion’s mindset, McDonnell hopes with occasions just like the inaugural ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland in July — the place a blended area will play for equal cash — they might help change the narrative.
“The girls are very passionate about wanting to be seen. If they can be seen, they can inspire. So more TV is the biggest challenge, it’s all to do with platform,” McDonnell informed NCS Sport.

“Angel Yin is 22 and has already competed at two Solheim Cups, she played the US Open aged 13 and she’s a young superstar, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t heard of her and that’s a problem,” added McDonnell, whose firm additionally has German golfer Olivia Cowan and Ireland’s Leona Maguire on their playing cards.

“We worked with an Irish company, and they interviewed young girls on who their heroes are. Every single one of them mentioned a male sports star.

Pano lines up a shot on the driving range. Pano lines up a shot on the driving range.

“If I had a daughter, I’d need her to have icons of individuals to lookup to. Some of essentially the most profitable folks in sport and enterprise are females, they usually deserve the identical platforms as males. That’s our humble opinion and that is the message we’re going to proceed to drive.”

With the LPGA/USGA Girls Golf initiative increasing participation by more than 1,800% from 2010-2020 among females aged six to17 — with a goal of breaking 100,000 by 2022, say the USGA — this is where the game is heading in 2021.

They’re not even 18, yet Avery and Pano can already look back with immense pride.

“Young women and even younger boys, however primarily younger women, they are saying they have been impressed by the film to take up golf. That was the principle factor we wished to come out of it,” said Pano.

“I see my Instagram DMs and once I get to meet them in particular person they usually say that, it is one of the best feeling.”


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