It’s not often a Rocky Top alumnus has reservations about sending his daughter to Knoxville, Tenn.
But Jon Newell had other ideas for his daughter.
“I know it’s hard to believe,” he said, “but I’d have rather A.J. stay in Florida.”
A.J. Newell, a 16-year-old from Tampa, Fla., committed to the University of Tennessee in late January, but admits that UT wasn’t always in the cards for her future. In fact, Newell’s younger sister Anna declared at an early age that Tennessee was her future school. When Newell verbally committed, Anna exclaimed, “You stole my school!”
It’s not as if Tennessee was the only school clamoring for Newell, No. 52 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings. Newell competes for Northside Christian in St. Petersburg, Fla., and led the team to second- and third-place finishes at the Class A Florida state championships (2008 and ’09). In 2009, she was named the St. Petersburg Times’ “Best Golfer of the Year.”
In addition to her stellar high school record, Newell has posted seven top-5 AJGA finishes, including a win at the 2007 Junior All-Star at PGA National and a runner-up finish last June at the AJGA Junior at Steelwood. It’s no wonder Newell had coaches from Florida, Auburn, Florida State, South Florida and Central Florida following her every move.
Sure, Newell is nervous about her move away from home and friends, but she’s dealt with long-distance relationships for years.
“I have a lot of golf friends,” she said. “Friends all over the country. You see them at a tournament and you’re best friends, but then you don’t see them again for another year. You stick together.”
One friend that she’s never been very far from is sister Anna, 13, who plays with Newell on the Northside team.
Jon calls them inseparable. Newell calls them best friends. Others might call them the “Newell dynasty.” When Newell graduates this spring, Anna will take the reins of the Northside team.
As for Anna’s talent? Her dad says that A.J. has to do her best just to be the best golfer in the family.
Pinellas County, be prepared for another dominant Newell.
“She’s almost as long on the course as I am,” Newell said of Anna. “I’m just more experienced and she learns from that. All she needs to work on is course management, but that’s just because she doesn’t have the experience yet.”
Newell will tee it up April 1 at the AJGA Junior at Innisbrook, where she’ll compete against a field that includes ninth-ranked Doris Chen, 13th-ranked Cindy Feng and Northside teammate Michelle Butler.
“I’ve been focusing a lot more on my short game,” Newell said. “What separates the winners from the Alexis Thompsons (Golfweek’s top-ranked junior) is the short game.”
Another focus: Her demeanor on the course.
“What they say about me is, ‘You can’t tell when she walks off the green if she made double or birdie,’ ” Newell said.
The reserved Newell models her game after Annika Sorenstam and Paula Creamer. On the course, she wears a U.S. Marine Corps hat and marks her shots with her lucky USMC ballmarker. When she’s not on the links, she’s reading about history. An admitted World War II buff, Newel would listen to audio books on the war on the way to junior events with her father. W.E.B. Griffin’s “The CORPS Series” caught Newell’s interest, as did a family visit to the U.S.S. Mobile. Jon feared that he was initially dragging Newell along on his own interests, but she began conversing with war veterans just as intently as he did.
As the final junior season of Newell’s career comes to a close this summer, Newell knows her journey is just starting.