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Teens on Parade at US Womens Open

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NORTH PLAINS, Ore. -- At any other major championship, Sydney Burlison would look out of place. She fits right in at the U.S. Women's Open.
 
The 13-year-old girl with big dreams, wide eyes and a full set of braces just finished the seventh grade at All Saints Day School in Carmel Valley, Calif.
 
As the sun tried to fight through low clouds hanging over Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club, Burlison took her place on the practice range Tuesday, just down the row from defending champion Juli Inkster, 43, who has a daughter the same age.
 
Sure, Burlison is the youngest player in the 156-woman field, but only by nine days over Michelle Wie of Honolulu.
 
And remember Morgan Pressel from Boca Raton, Fla.?
 
Two years ago, she became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Women's Open history and attracted large crowds at Pine Needles. She made it back this year as a 15-year-old, only this time she's old news.
 
Teenagers are taking over the most prestigious tournament in women's golf.
 
Burlison, Wie and Pressel are among 14 teens on parade at Pumpkin Ridge, the most anyone from the U.S. Golf Association can recall. No one knows because for years the USGA only asked for the handicap, not the age.
 
If it's a record, it might not last long.
 
'I think you're going to see it every year,'' said Cristie Kerr, who thought she reached the moon by qualifying for her first U.S. Women's Open in 1995 at 17. 'As time progresses, as equipment gets better, as training gets betters, it's going to be a lot more normal.''
 
It used to be normal for players to show their driver's license when checking in. Now, it might as well be a student ID, or maybe even a library card.
 
Natalie Gulbis will be the old lady in her group in the first two rounds.
 
She's 20.
 
Gulbis will be playing alongside 19-year-old Christian Kim, an LPGA rookie, and 17-year-old Aree Song.
 
It wasn't like this three weeks ago in the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields, where the only teenagers walking inside the ropes were 16-year-old Tom Glissmeyer and 18-year-old Luke List.
 
Why more girls than boys?
 
'Girls mature faster. I think that's part of the equation,'' Dottie Pepper said. 'I was this height since the sixth grade, then I just bottomed out. They're making them bigger and stronger.''
 
Burlison already is 5-foot-6, while Creamer is closing in on 5-9. Aree and Naree Song, the twins from Thailand who will be freshmen at Florida next year, haven't grown much since they were 5-10 phenoms at 13.
 
Tiger Woods was scrawny as a teen, and his father said he never fully matured until his fourth full season on the PGA Tour.
 
'I think the difference is a 13-year-old girl can hit it as far as we can, and that's why they can compete,'' Kerr said. 'A 13-year-old boy isn't as strong as the men.''
 
Whatever the reason, the girls are here to stay.
 
Some might question the depth of women's golf that so many kids can earn a spot in the biggest tournaments. LPGA Tour commissioner Ty Votaw sees the cup as half full, and it doesn't hurt that nine of the teenagers at Pumpkin Ridge are Americans.
 
Only three Americans have won on the LPGA Tour this year.
 
'It's a reflection that the pipeline is getting filled more and more with players who are getting better at an earlier age than we've ever seen,'' Votaw said. 'What that suggests is a bright future for women's golf.''
 
Pressel takes part of the credit, saying she might have inspired others to dream big by qualifying for the Women's Open at age 12.
 
'There weren't all that many teenagers qualifying,'' Pressel said. 'There were plenty good enough, but none of them tried. Now, I guess they think they can do it. And they do.''
 
Most of the attention is on Wie, who two weeks ago became the youngest player to win a USGA title for grown-ups at the U.S. Women's Amateur Public Links. Earlier this year, she played in the final group of an LPGA major at the Nabisco Championship.
 
Paula Creamer is not all that impressed.
 
The 16-year-old from Pleasanton, Calif., is quick to point out that she has beaten Wie the two times they have gone head-to-head. The most recent was at the U.S. Women's Open qualifier in Florida, another tournament that spoke volumes about the youth movement.
 
Of the six spots available, four went to teens -- Aree Song, Creamer, Wie and Pressel.
 
Wie and Pressel wound up in a three-way playoff for the remaining two spots. Pressel got in with a par, Wie by making a short birdie.
 
What followed was a scene that Pressel remembered from two years ago.
 
'It was kind of funny,'' Pressel said. 'As I walked off the green, there must have been 50 people -- cameras, everything -- standing around her and her family. I just looked back and laughed. I had two local people following me, and they left to talk to Michelle.
 
'It's not going to be the same.''
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage of the U.S. Women's Open
  • More LPGA Tour Preview Information

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