2006: Youngest girls’ enthusiasm infectious
By Rex Hoggard
Of the 22 juniors who schlepped halfway around the world and arrived at the sprawling IMG Academies bubble-headed, yet somehow wide-eyed, Shane Reiser’s baby-faced crew needed the most work.
“Most of them really needed to focus on fundamentals – grip, alignment, posture,” said Reiser of the five girls in his group of 9- to 13-year-olds.
Yet, beyond the work, Reiser also realized what his group represented – the future of golf in a country with an unlimited golf future.
The remedial nature of Reiser’s five is precisely what prompted the energetic 33-year-old from Oklahoma to pick the China Junior Team’s youngest and, to Reiser, most promising.
“I wanted the challenge,” said Reiser, an instructor at the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy for eight years.
Although his group needed work on the fundamentals, he quickly discovered this was not Golf 101. At the first match, Li Chuxin, whose American name is Judy, posted the group’s best nine-hole score, a steady 1-over-par total on a chilly El Conquistador layout.
Reiser said Judy was his group’s best raw talent. The 13-year-old is tall with a lumbering swing that produces a surprising punch. Her drives averaged more than 230 yards, but he planned to send her home with a program to improve her short game. Every member of the China Junior Team was given a “faults and fixes” report with two or three drills to workon back home.
Of all the challenges Reiser’s group faced when they returned home to China – limited golf courses, 11-hour school days, a government that considers golf a secondary sport – work ethic is not a concern.
Reiser said the Leadbetter Academy is something of a United Nations for junior golf, with kids from every corner of the globe. He quickly learned the China Junior Team members were like many of the Asian juniors he works with when he arrived one cool morning at 7:45 a.m. The entire group already was on
the range, a full 45 minutes before their scheduled practice session.
“I was expecting a great work ethic out of them and I got that,” Reiser said. “But the key is making them get off here (the range) and spend time on the golf course. This little piece here is just a small piece of being a good player.”
Transitioning his teachings from the range to the course didn’t seem to be much of a problem for Reiser’s crew. Nor did they have a problem enjoying themselves. They hammed it up for the camera, high-fived after birdie putts and generally took to Reiser like an older brother.
The most animated of the group – Wang Xin, whose American name is Amy – led the playful charge.
The 11-year-old with pigtails has what Reiser called the most fundamentally sound swing in his group. She also was something of a prankster, tripping Reiser when he walked by and marking her golf ball with a large, smiling face.
During one of her nine-hole matches, Amy was 1 under through six holes before a double bogey derailed her round. Like a typical 11-year-old, she pouted briefly before happily moving on to the next hole, her swing still smooth and confidence undiminished. Reiser noted her resilience.
Asked if her goal was to play golf professionally, Amy didn’t hesitate: “Of course.”
Her future, like the future of golf in her country, seems limitless.