'Developmental model' to nurture U.S. junior golf talent

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American LPGA pros struggling to keep up with Asia’s rise to power need help.

“We’re outnumbered,” Cristie Kerr said Tuesday at the CME Group Tour Championship. “That’s what people seem to lose sight of.”

A flood of talent from the Far East is filling the LPGA ranks, with Asian-born players occupying 10 of the top 12 spots in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

But American help may be on the way.

“Junior golf, girls especially, is the fastest growing segment of the game,” PGA of America vice president Suzy Whaley told GolfChannel.com. “We are seeing an incredible surge of girls participating.”

With LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf and PGA Junior Leagues growing impressively, the task now is advancing that influx of new interest up the ladder of talent development. And there’s a new effort to do that.

The PGA of America, LPGA, USGA, PGA Tour and Augusta National are joining forces to devise an “American developmental model” for junior boys and girls.

“The allied associations are realizing that together we are stronger in growing the game,” Whaley said. “The PGA of America is looking to take the lead with the collaboration of all the bodies to develop a model, a structure, that creates a clear vision for a parent, of where do I start, what program is best for my child through a PGA professional, and how do I navigate that for my child’s interest and skill level.”

The joint effort is in the early stages, but women’s golf advocates are eager to move it forward. While the plan’s focus is broader than just developing elite talent, the model should help more motivated juniors get there.

“That’s part of what we are creating, an easier way for parents to understand that if they want their daughter to be the next Stacy Lewis, here’s what they need to get her there,” said Nancy Henderson, president of the LPGA foundation.

Henderson said LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf is designed to nurture interest in the game in a “fun environment,” but this can lead to more competitive interests. Henderson said 45 LPGA and Symetra Tour pros in the game today came through LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf.

“The more girls we get into the pipeline, the more there will be with a chance to play for college scholarships, or to play at the highest level,” Henderson said.

Six years ago, before LPGA commissioner Mike Whan made LPGA-USGA Girls’ Golf a charity beneficiary of the Founders Cup, there were 5,000 girls in the program. Today, there are 60,000.

The PGA of America is also boosting girls numbers with its highly successful PGA Junior Leagues, where boys and girls compete together in a team format with jerseys. In four years, the leagues have grown from 9,000 boys and girls to 36,000.

The “American developmental model” is designed to make the most of junior interest, whether it’s developing avid recreational players who will better enjoy the game, or high-level competitors.

“As an industry, we realize that in order to get more juniors into the game, we have to be a little clearer in terms of the pathway for development,” Henderson said.