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Will golf's youth be well served?

Lexi Thompson reacts after sinking a putt for

Lexi Thompson reacts after sinking a putt for birdie on the eighth green during the third round of the U.S. Women's Open golf tournament. (July 7, 2012) Credit: AP


The consensus, even after some surprisingly good scores this week, is that the U.S. Women's Open still is the toughest test in women's golf. And many of these players know all about tests. They are fresh off exams in arithmetic. In a few years, they will even be old enough to study for their learner's permits.

Long gone are the days of waiting to get through, or at least to, college to get into the U.S. Open. There were 29 teenagers in the field of 156 here at Blackwolf Run, including a 13-year-old and two 14-year-olds. That is the thing about women's golf: many players are in a hurry.

What is left is figuring out where they are going.

Teenagers are playing international schedules amid top-level competition. They and their families say it will all pay off someday, with big pots of gold waiting for them on the LPGA Tour. Maybe, maybe not. You will be the judge of that.

You, the public, will tell them if this is all worth it. You will tell them how much money there is to be made because you will tell them how much women's pro golf you want to watch, which will determine how much money sponsors are willing to pay. At the moment, this is very much an open question.

This year, there are only 15 LPGA events, including majors, scheduled in the United States. Whether that will go up or down is anyone's guess. It sure would not hurt American television ratings if one of these young American players, such as 17-year-old pro Lexi Thompson, wins enough to become a big star.

One thing is certain right now, though: There is no shortage of young golfers willing to bet on the future.

"When I first came out on tour 16 years ago, I came right out of high school. That was really an unusual thing. But now it seems to be the norm," said Cristie Kerr, 35, a two-time major winner who has been a big player here this week despite being old enough to have heard of REO Speedwagon. "They are just grooming these kids so early now that it's a business.

"At 17, you have a coach, you have a mental coach, you have a trainer. When I was 17, I was lucky to have my parents traveling with me. It's a different world we live in now."

Hall of Famer Juli Inkster, who has eight major titles and two daughters (22 and 18), said before she missed the cut here this week that the new golf world has been influenced by the growth of the game in Asia.

"When I was raising my kids, I had them in ballet, dance, music, sports; they were in everything," the 52-year-old said. "Over there, if you play golf, you play golf. That's what you do. And you do it all day.

"Like everything, nothing stays the same. It just evolves."

Whether this evolution will be good for the women's game remains to be seen. Whether it is good for the teens is up to them and their families.

"I mean, you have to love the game," Thompson said. "Off the golf course, you have to hang out with your friends, get your mind off the game or you're just going to go crazy. It's good to have a friend to play golf with or practice just to keep it nice and calm."

The view from this peanut stand says that it will all be OK if other young golfers are as well adjusted as Thompson is. Another little hint: Don't take all of this so horribly seriously that it becomes an immense chore.

Those six-hour rounds amid the high-90s temperatures here Thursday and Friday were excruciating, and definitely not fan-friendly. It will do wonders for women's golf if the next generation gets in more of a hurry to finish 18 holes.

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