Golf always has been a game of honor. That’s why it’s so disturbing to learn that the winner of a prestigious national junior championship actually was ineligible.
The PGA of America is weighing what action to take after learning that Sung Ea Lee, who won the 2002 Westfield Junior PGA Championship, was 18 when the tournament began. The age limit is 17. Lee likely will be stripped of the title.
As of Feb. 24, the facts still were being sorted. Did Lee deliberately falsify her birth date on the tournament entry form? Or did she misunderstand the eligibility criteria? Regardless, the episode underscores the potentially dark underside of the high-stakes game golf has become – trickling all the way down to the junior level.
The case against Lee was made in a letter to the PGA, signed by “Concerned & Disappointed Golf Parents.” It called for junior golf to require a review of birth certificates to confirm eligibility. “It is a sad commentary,” the letter read, “but with the apparent lengths some players and families will go to ‘pad’ the resume, this action only seems prudent.”
That’s not something the American Junior Golf Association is eager to do, but officials at the country’s largest junior golf organization concede it may be necessary.
“I hate to think we’re going down that road in golf,” said Peter Ripa, the AJGA’s chief of operations. “If that’s the case, it’s something we’re going to have to look hard at. It’s only fair to the membership.”
Although he characterized it as “minimal,” Ripa acknowledged that the AJGA has had to do “some legwork” in terms of verifying ages of members.
Said Beth Reuter, who as AJGA vice president of player services is responsible for policing eligibility: “Out of 5,000 members, I’d trust 4,998 of them to put down the right information.”
Unfortunately, it only takes one to put the game’s reputation at risk.
LPGA exemption move a positive step
By increasing to six the annual number of sponsor exemptions a nonmember may accept (story, page 8), the LPGA has taken an important step toward ensuring a viable future. The change continues a trend to increase opportunities for young, deserving players to gain access to the best professional tour in women’s golf. It’s especially significant for players fresh out of college, who are eager to hone their games before LPGA Q-School in the fall.
Thanks to the two-event addition, fewer stars-in-waiting will suffer the plight that befell Lorena Ochoa and Kelli Kuehne. By the time Ochoa finished her college season at Arizona last summer, she had but one exemption left to use – even though it was clear she had the talent not only to compete, but to contend. The same can be said for Kuehne, who turned pro in 1996 but was limited to only four LPGA events (plus the U.S. Women’s Open) in 1997.
Already the LPGA doles out tour cards to the top three graduates from the Futures Tour, a system that has paved the LPGA path for up-and-comers such as Ochoa, Beth Bauer and Grace Park. The LPGA needs to make even more room for young players who are the stars of tomorrow. Two more spots via the Futures Tour would be a logical next step.