Youngest Golfers to Play in Professional Tournaments
The story of 14-year-old Chinese golfer Kuang Yang qualifying for May's European Tour-sanctioned Volvo China Open has rekindled memories of past teenagers who emerged onto the professional stage at a remarkably young age, which has been a surprisingly regular occurrence throughout history in both the men's and women's game.
Kuang won the Volvo China Junior Match Play to secure his place in the upcoming tournament, but he won't be the youngest golfer to have competed on the circuit, or indeed within that event. Looking back to 2013, Ye Wo-cheng was aged 12 years and 242 days when he played in the China Open, missing the cut after two rounds in the 70s. Many will recall the appearance of 14-year-old Guan Tianglang in the Masters that same year, when the teenager made history by making the cut at Augusta National despite facing a rare penalty for slow play.
Sergio Garcia had only just turned 15 when he made the cut at the Turespana Masters in 1995, while Italy's Matteo Manassero took achievements to another level by winning on the European Tour aged just 17 years and 288 days. He was only 16 when finishing in a tie for 13th in the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry, claiming the Silver Medal, while two decades earlier, Justin Rose hadn't yet turned 18 when he memorably finished fourth at Royal Birkdale in 1998. Eventual two-time major winner Sandy Lyle - then representing England as an amateur - qualified for the Open just months after celebrating his 16th birthday in 1974.
Looking across the Atlantic, Tiger Woods was embarking on the beginning of his legendary career when playing in the 1992 L.A. Open at the age of 16, while more recently, continuing that Californian theme, 14-year-old Andy Zhang played in the U.S. Open at the age of 14, making history at San Francisco's Olympic Club.
Historically, the exploits of Young Tom Morris in the 19th century resonate to this day, and there is the astonishing case - noted by Brent Kelley - of 11-year-old Don Dunkelberger who received an invite to play in the 1937 Chicago Open. He withdrew from the tournament after shooting an opening round of 103.
Famously, Michelle Wie was a 14-year-old prodigy when she was invited to compete in the PGA Tour's Sony Open in 2004, missing the cut by one shot. The women's game is perhaps more notable for the achievements of young players, particularly when you consider that former world number one Lydia Ko won the LPGA's Canadian Open in 2012 aged 15 years, four months and three days. She astonishingly defended the title 12 months later, perhaps one of the most underrated feats in history.
The New Zealander won a total of six times on the circuit before her 18th birthday, while Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson both secured victories on the LPGA Tour when still of high school age. Reflecting back to over a decade ago, Morgan Pressel claimed a major title at the Kraft Nabisco Championship when only 18 years, ten months and nine days old. Several years previously, in 2001, Pressel qualified to play in the U.S. Women's Open when she was only 12, as Thompson later did in 2007.
But that wasn't a record. Four years ago at Pinehurst, 11-year-old Lucy Li astonishingly made it through sectional qualifying. Decades earlier, LPGA icon Judy Rankin did similar at 14, but it was Beverly Klass who set the standard by playing in the 1967 U.S. Women's Open when she was 10. Unfathomable.
Many observers would understandably question just how healthy it has been for teenagers and children to experience the spotlight of competitive sport at the highest level, but it has been a consistent factor throughout time. China's Kuang Yang is just the latest example.
Can you think of more examples of young golfers emerging onto the professional stage? Let us know!
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