First Steps of Future Champions

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Futures TourThe Futures Golf Tour kicked off its 2004 season and a first-time winner emerged to take her first steps toward the LPGA. Kimberly Adams of Canada won the Lakeland Futures Golf Classic, the first of 18 tournaments in this years schedule. She won in front of a gallery of wintering fellow Canadians and she beat her closest competition from Korea and Chile by four shots.
 
But Kim Adams, like PGA Tour first-time winner Todd Hamilton, who won the Honda Classic on the same Sunday, isnt exactly a household name. She hasnt moved up to the first-name category, like Annika, Nancy, Tiger, Jack and Arnold. And shes not getting rich, either. With a $9,100 winners check for her 11-under-par score of 205, she earned about one percent of Hamiltons $900,000 for his inaugural PGA Tour win. She played 54 holes; he played 72. She earned almost $10,000; he earned nearly one million bucks for a weeks work.
 
But whos counting? And what does it really mean for Kim Adams to be a member of the Futures Tour, the official developmental tour of the LPGA? Isnt laboring in obscurity and traveling the highways in a Volkswagen part of the process? Isnt eating a regular menu of humble pie and logging ridiculous hours on the practice green as necessary as coming to the first tee with a game face? For developing pros, absolutely.
 
The New Brunswick native is one of 316 members on this years Futures Tour and she is one of the numerous international players here in the United States who graduated from U.S. collegiate golf to the minor leagues. Twenty-nine nations are represented on this years tour and all have come here with the same goal: theyre here for the opportunity to improve their skills in the game and to advance to the next level.
 
Players range in age, with the youngest being Thai teen Naree Song at 17 (her twin sister, Aree, plays on the LPGA Tour) to mid-to-late 40s with some players returning to competitive golf after their children are grown. They all hope to finish in the top five on the money list to earn one of the five automatic exempt LPGA Tour cards awarded at the end of the season. Those cards are carrots, looming larger than dollars for these developing players, and they are the motivator for every hour they log along the nearly 9,000 highway miles linking this years tournament stops.
 
While theyre not yet coddled by corporations and dont fly on private jets from tournament to tournament, these young players are getting rich on experience and opportunity. They are here to grow up, to develop their golf games and learn their way around a big country. Some of them will learn to speak English. All of them will learn that pro-ams might just become one of the most important days of the week for their future with Corporate America. And all of them will learn how to live out of a suitcase to pursue the goal of playing professional tournament golf.
 
Great careers and personal legacies start somewhere. On the Futures Tour, it might start in Wichita or Morgantown, W.Va., but even Karrie Webb, Laura Davies, Dottie Pepper, Grace Park, Beth Bauer and Lorena Ochoa traveled these same highways to get to the highest heights on the LPGA Tour. They werent the first and they wont be the last.
 
Its hard not to be put off by local media who come to Futures Tour tournaments and ask which members of the LPGA Tour are in the field. Usually a good half-dozen or more non-exempt LPGA Tour members are in every field, looking for a place to play and the chance to improve their full LPGA Tour status while competing alongside the future stars on their way up. But while those LPGA players might be more recognizable, they arent shoo-ins to win. These tour veterans are now playing against young pros who have everything to gain and nothing to lose. They are facing hungry beginning pros who dont have an archive of negative thoughts that get in the way of success. They are facing young spirits that are hungry to move past the learning stage en route to the proving ground. And there is usually a waiting list of 50 or more players, just itching for the chance to play.
 
Sure, womens golf needs the Annikas to continue advancing the female side of the sport on the medias radar. But it also needs the developmental tour ' a place where future champions learn to win. Without the minors, there would be no major league. Thats true in baseball and thats certainly true in golf. And while the glamour still resides on the wealthiest pro tours, theres something very pure, very fundamental about professional golf in its infancy and young champions just learning to take their first winning steps.
 
Editors Note: Lisa D. Mickey is the director of communications for the Futures Golf Tour and a longtime member of the national golf media. For more information, about the Futures Tour, contact lisa@futurestour.com or visit futurestour.com.