May 14, 2021

Sports Legend

Netflix: female stars of ‘the Short Game’ documentary help change golf

The year is 2012 and the stars of the show are 1,500 seven- and eight-year-old golf prodigies representing 60 different countries, all vying for a chance to become a US Children’s World Champion on the dreaded Pinehurst Course. .

Upon its release in 2013, Augusta National had just accepted its first two female members the previous year into former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and financier and philanthropist Darla Moore.

Junior golfers (aged six to 17) in the United States now total more than three million players with more than one million girls, rising from 25% of the total in 2010 to 34% last year, according to the National Golf Foundation.

Pano steps onto the podium after winning the women's section 7-9 of the regional final of the Drive, Chip and Putt competition.

On a similar upward curve are California’s Amari Avery and Floridian Alexa Pano, now 17 and 16, who won at Pinehurst in their respective USK categories in 2012. Nine years later, the two made it to the field. 82 ANWA players.

“I want to be the first woman to play at a tournament in Augusta. Girls are as good as boys, ”says a measured Pano when we first meet her in the Netflix documentary – the girl who is filmed training in the rain and then shivers because she freezes.

She is the last to leave the shooting range.

Avery is filmed doing push-ups and sit-ups with her father André and sister Alona for company. She is now heading to the University of Southern California next year on a golf scholarship and knows the meaning of tough yards.

“You can be a child prodigy and have all the talent in the world, but it won’t get you anywhere if you don’t work,” she told CNN Sport by phone before winning the first Mack Champ Invitational in Houston. in March, an event put on by PGA Tour star Cameron Champ for the game’s top junior golfers from a variety of backgrounds.

“I didn’t have to live up to all expectations. I’m my own person away from ‘The Short Game.’ I loved participating, but I want to be talked about for winning a great tournament. “

Although neither player made the final on Saturday at Augusta in the 54 hole event – the first two rounds are at the Champions Retreat nearby before a practice round for all competitors in Augusta on Friday – they have time on their side.

Pano, the youngest competitor this year, just as she was in 2019 when she also missed the cup, has added motivation to come back next year.

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Pano leaves the first tee in the Junior Solheim Cup.

Missing grandma’s cup and mentos

Already a two-time drive, chip and putt winner at Augusta, Pano missed the ANWA Cup as the youngest player in the 2019 peloton and therefore missed the opportunity to play competitive golf on the hilly course.

Even though she got to play Augusta in a practice round, the weekend crowd lit their competitive fires as they watched then top-ranked amateur Jennifer Kupcho play her last six holes in a par five to be crowned. inaugural champion.

“It was something I had never seen in women’s golf. It was very motivating to want to come back this year,” Pano told CNN Sport by phone from Gainbridge’s LPGA in February, ahead of a round of play. training in the women’s golf week. Icon and President of the International Golf Federation, Annika Sorenstam, made her first competitive appearance in 13 years.

The current momentum around women’s golf may be something that Pano’s grandmother – seen in “The Short Game” superstitiously holding a bundle of Mentos to bring good luck to the young girl – has seen on the horizon before. her death in 2013, just after a fourth USK World Championship title for her granddaughter.

“She wanted to see Alexa take part in a tournament one day in Augusta,” Pano’s devoted father, Rick, told CNN Sport in an email.

“Alexa told her that she was already in the first Drive, Chip and Putt. Her grandmother said,” No, there will be a women’s tournament in Augusta one day. ”

“It was five years before the ANWA announcement. ANWA is by far the greatest thing that has ever happened in women’s golf.”

The 2019 tournament was the most watched amateur golf event in the United States since 2003 and the most watched women’s golf event since 2016.

“I think we’re going to have a really good effect on the road. It was great,” said Sorenstam after Kupcho’s famous victory.
Pano in action during the Junior Solheim Cup.

Pano was exposed to the biggest stage from a young age, playing the 2016 Yonex Ladies Open in Japan at the age of 11, the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic at 13, and the US Women’s Open at 14.

She was inspired by Kathy Whitworth – whose 88 LPGA Tour beats Tiger Woods and Sam Snead’s 82 in the men – but like so many women, she wants more golf.

“I can’t complain because I have had amazing experiences in women’s football, but there is so much that can be improved or made more equal.

“I think everyone here has had to overcome their own battle, and all a golfer wants is for the attention to be on her golf course. Not how she is dressed.”

Avery says she learned a lot from “mentor” Carlota Ciganda – the European Cup winner Solheim she played with as the Spaniard triumphed on the Cactus Tour in late February 2020.

The following week, Avery won her first professional tournament on the same tour, where Women’s Open champion Sophia Popov regained some form before her defining moment in her career.

“I think women’s golf needs a little help because there aren’t a lot of people watching,” Avery added.

“But I would love to discuss women’s golf. In the future, when I’m done playing, I still want to be part of the business side and help it.”

READ: There is a dearth of black players on the LPGA Tour. This woman wants that to change
Avery hits his drive off the 12th tee in the final round of the Annika Invitational.

Pop stars

Avery lists upbeat music, likes rapper Drake, mentions Coco Gauff and Naomi Osaka because she follows tennis “like crazy” and enjoyed cooking during the pandemic.

There is also a superstitious tendency in his family. If you’re looking for good omens, she shares a birthday on December 30 with five-time Masters champion Woods, while her initials – ANA – have been a past hit at the ANA Inspiration Hosting Course, Mission Hills. , in California.

Everything bodes well for the future, as does the W at ANWA after a promising start – she made the playoffs at five for last place at Augusta but narrowly missed.

“The W stands for winner (emoji trophy),” his proud father says in an optimistic WhatsApp message.

Avery lines up a putt.

Meanwhile, Pano jokes that Adele’s music is “clean enough to play with my dad,” but there is a deeper meaning behind listening to the British superstar.

“I feel like every event I won, this song from Adele would play: Set Fire to the Rain. So this song really resonates with me.”

And their love for Adele isn’t the only connection between golf and music.

Enter former One Direction singer Niall Horan.

Alongside the Englishman Mark McDonnell, the Irishman Horan co-founded Modest! Golf to help diversify and refresh the sport.

Growing up with Justin Rose and undoubtedly harnessing the 2016 Olympic champion’s mindset, McDonnell is hopeful that with events like the first ISPS Handa World Invitational in Northern Ireland in July – where mixed pitch will play for a prize. equal – they can help change the narrative. .
“Girls are very passionate about wanting to be seen. If they can be seen they can inspire. So the bigger the TV the bigger the challenge, everything has to do with the platform,” McDonnell told CNN Sport.

“Angel Yin is 22 and has been in two Solheim Cups before, she played the US Open at 13 and she’s a young superstar, but it’s amazing how many people haven’t heard of it. ‘her and that’s a problem,’ added McDonnell, whose company also has German golfer Olivia Cowan and Irishman Leona Maguire on their cards.

“We worked with an Irish company and they interviewed young girls to find out who their heroes are. Each of them mentioned a male sports star.

Pano lines up a photo on the driving range.

“If I had a daughter, I would like her to have icons of people to admire. Some of the most successful people in sports and business are women, and they deserve the same platforms as men. It is our humble opinion and it is the message that we will continue to convey. “

With the LPGA / USGA Girls Golf initiative increasing participation by over 1800% between 2010-2020 among women ages 6 to 17 – with the goal of surpassing 100,000 by 2022, according to the USGA – it is where the game is heading in 2021.

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They aren’t even 18, but Avery and Pano can already look back with immense pride.

“Young girls and even young boys, but mostly young girls, they say they were inspired by the movie to get into golf. That was the main thing we wanted to get out of it,” Pano said.

“I see my Instagram DMs and when I meet them in person and they say that it’s the best feeling.”