Some of the most talented prodigies in the history of golf may have started out just like you! In no particular order, check out the list below to learn more about some of golf’s greatest prodigies and how they earned their title.
As we dive into the history of some of the most talented golf prodigies, where better to start than with Tiger Woods. Born Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods, he is known as one of the most successful golfers of all time. With six junior world championships to his name, Woods is the only player to win three U.S. junior championships in a row, and is a three-peat winner of the US amateur from 1994 to 1996. No prodigy has been in the spotlight as early as Tiger. At age two, he made his first television appearance on the Mike Douglas Show, alongside Bob Hope. With his father, Earl, ensuring the media was following closely, Tiger competed often in major golf tournaments and events. He won the first of his six World Junior Golf Championship titles at the age of 8 and at the age of 15, he won the first of his three U.S. Junior Amateurs. By the time Woods had acquired his third consecutive U.S. Amateur title, he was one of the most talked-about golfers in the world. Woods turned pro in August 1996. Within a year, he earned titles in three PGA Tour events, became the youngest winner of The Masters at 21, and became the fastest player to reach No. 1 after turning professional, with only 290 days into his pro career. Arguably, Woods is considered the greatest golfer of them all, and was once one of golf’s greatest prodigies. In his professional career, Woods won 15 Majors and 110 tournaments which got many people excited again about the game of golf.
Mickelson began golf under his father’s instruction before starting school. Although he was right-handed, Mickelson played golf left-handed, as that is how he learned by watching his right-handed father swing. Mickelson Sr.’s work as a commercial pilot allowed time for the two of them to play together several times a week. Young Phil honed his creative short game on an extensive practice area in their San Diego backyard. Phil only won a singular World Junior title growing up, but those who saw him play often said that he was like “a Mozart on the fairways, pure genius”. He did win a lot of tournaments as a junior, but he wasn’t dominant nationally. It seems his true passion was for practice, and that he would rather do that than play in tournaments. However, even as a young boy, he would pull off shots that pros could not. Mickelson attended Arizona State University on a golf scholarship and became the face of amateur golf in the U.S. He earned three NCAA individual championship titles and went on to dominate college golf. In 1991, Mickelson won the Northern Telecom Open in Tucson, Arizona, as an amateur. He remains the last amateur to win a PGA Tour event. Mickelson graduated from ASU in June 1992 and quickly turned professional. His win at the Northern Telecom Open was the first of 44 PGA Tour titles. Mickelson is often considered to be one of the top 15 players of all-time.
Park began playing golf at the age of 10 in Seoul, South Korea. Two years later, at the age of 12, she moved to the U.S. to pursue a career in golf. As a member of the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA), she won nine events and was a five-time Rolex Junior All-American. She was a semifinalist at the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur and won the 2002 U.S. Girls’ Junior. In 2003 and 2005, she finished as a runner-up in the U.S. Girls’ Junior. While playing as an amateur from 2004 through 2006, Park competed in the Kraft Nabisco Championship, as a sponsor invite, and in the LPGA Takefuji Classic three times. Park appealed to the LPGA for permission to attempt to qualify for the LPGA as a 17-year-old in 2006. The LPGA rules typically require that a player be 18 to join the Tour, therefore, they denied Park’s request. She decided to enroll at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but soon after dropped out and then turned professional. In 2006, she recorded 11 top-10 finishes on the Futures Tour, where she was able to earn exempt status on the LPGA Tour for the 2007 season. In 2008, she won her first LPGA Tour event and major championship at the U.S. Women’s Open, breaking the record as the youngest to win the title. In 2016, Park was officially inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame, as the youngest player to ever qualify. She is still an active member on the LPGA Tour.
One of the most famed golf prodigies as of recent history, Michelle Wie began playing golf at the age of four in her home state of Hawaii. At the age of 10, Wie became the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur Championship in 2000. In 2002, she won the Hawaii State Open Women’s Division by thirteen shots. She also became the youngest player to qualify for an LPGA event, the Takefuji Classic held in Hawaii. By 2004, she bested many of the world’s top men’s players’ and major winners at the Sony Open despite narrowly missing the cut. She shot 68 from the men’s tees. Michelle accomplished things no junior player ever had. She practically skipped the junior ranks and went straight to the adult amateurs and professionals. She turned pro at 15 and earned massive endorsement deals. Many considered her to be the next star in women’s golf. In total, she won five LPGA Tour events, the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open among them. Victory at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open has proven to be the career peak for Wie; her professional career haulted by injury. She told CNN she had been considering retirement before the birth of her daughter in 2020.
Alexis “Lexi” Thompson at age 12, she was the youngest golfer ever to qualify to play in the U.S. Women’s Open. Also at age 12, she won the Aldila Junior Classic to become the second-youngest winner in American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) history. Before qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Open, Thompson won the Junior PGA Championship. Home-schooled since the age of 11, Thompson comes from a strong golfing family. Her two brothers, Nicholas and Curtis, are also professional golfers. Nicholas has won more than US$3 million playing on the PGA and Nationwide tours and is coached by the legendary Jim McLean. Accustomed to breaking records, she turned professional at 15, and won an LPGA Tour and Ladies European Tour event at 16. Thompson successfully petitioned the LPGA to receive a waiver to the rule that LPGA Tour members must be at least 18 years old, allowing her to enter the 2011 LPGA Qualifying School for Tour membership in 2012. Thompson officially became a member of the LPGA tour in 2012. By 19, she won the 2014 Kraft Nabisco Championship. The victory made her the second-youngest women’s major winner at the time. Thompson is still working hard to earn titles. In October of 2023, she became the seventh women to play on the PGA Tour when she played in the Shriners Children’s Open.
Former world number one in the Official World Golf Ranking, Jordan Spieth managed to smash many records throughout his golf career. Spieth’s first major win came in the 2015 Masters Tournament, when he shot a 270 (−18). He tied the then 72-hole record set by Tiger Woods in 1997 and became the second youngest golfer to win the Masters. In 2011, Spieth won the U.S. Junior Amateur at 17. Before turning 18 in July 2011, he was No. 1 in the AJGA Golf Rankings, which also named him Rolex Junior Player of the Year in 2009. He accepted an exemption to play in the PGA Tour’s HP Byron Nelson Championship in 2010. He made the cut, becoming the sixth-youngest player to make the cut at a PGA Tour event. In 2012, after failing to advance to the Final Stage of PGA Tour qualifying school, 19-year-old Spieth turned professional midway through his sophomore year at the University of Texas. With his victory at the John Deere Classic, Spieth was granted full status as a PGA Tour member and became eligible for the FedEx Cup. He made his Masters debut in 2014 and shared the 54-hole lead with Bubba Watson. He finished in a tie for second with Jonas Blixt, becoming the youngest runner-up in Masters history. Fast forward to today, Spieth continues to break records in his career. In September 2023, Spieth played on the U.S. team in the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome, Italy.
Many junior golf prodigies have gone on to achieve fame and fortune for their pure talent. As we see more and more talented golfers grow through their junior achievements, we are likely to see many more become pro legends. Not all of golf’s greatest players start playing as children, but those who start dominating as juniors are often looked upon to go far within the sport. There are many more pro golfers who achieved greatness at a very young age. Although we haven’t listed them all, there are many other players who have broken records over the years, and will continue to do so.
– Photo Credit: Per-Anders Pettersson/Corbis via Getty Images –
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