Kids in the Pros: It’s Not Just A Game Anymore

Imagine being young and talented…and rich. Rubbing elbows with famous folk left and right. Tuesday night on the red carpet, Thursday nights in the most exclusive clubs, spending your weekends playing games while raking in endorsement money and prizes, no one to tell you what to do. Insanely long and intense vacations, traveling and getting to see sights all across the world. That would be the life. This is a fantasy for most people, but it is actually reality for some 18, 19, and 20 year-olds. Why can’t it be me? I’m a golfer. I’m not a bad golfer at that. I’ve captained a state championship team. I even caddy all summer long. I watch it on TV. I play Tiger Woods 2005 on the play station all the time with my buddies. I could probably tell you way more about golfing than you’d ever want to know. So why can’t this be me? I’ve been contemplating this recently because a certain 16 year-old girl (barely 16) named Michelle Wie just decided to become a pro golfer last week and signed a multi-million dollar endorsement deal with Nike. She is the most exceptional specimen in a current trend in women’s and men’s golf. More and more often now teenagers, kids who haven’t gone to college, or have only gone for a semester or so, are opting for the grande dinero of pro golf. One of these cases, Paula Creamer (she would be a freshman in college this year) is poised to finish second on the money list in her first year on tour. About ten years ago, a skinny kid named Eldrick Tiger Woods bypassed his last few semesters at Stanford to turn pro, and won within his first three weeks on tour. All of these kids can play golf at a level most only dream of. This is widely known, accepted, and maddening. But the issue at hand is not their talent but their maturity and their sense of responsibility. Can they handle it? In her first tournament as a pro she finished fourth (she finished second in one of the LPGA majors as a fifteen year-old amateur) only to be disqualified for taking an illegal drop reported by a journalist two days after it happened. Anyone would agree that this would ruin anyone’s day, she still left the tournament sporting bloodshot eyes and large sunglasses. I’d have to believe that’s the kid in her, not the pro. A veteran would be upset but most likely not break down into tears. It’s hard for anyone to pass up millions of dollars just to go to school. However, there are things that you learn at school, things that making money cannot teach you. The majority of us would be hard pressed to not say that college is a blast. There’s freedom, but there is also a safety net; one gets a glimpse of the real world that awaits but is not yet completely immersed. Going straight from high school to a high-profile professional life has to be a difficult transition, a transition that I don’t think any high schooler is truly prepared to make. Any success in this endeavor is a product of luck and extremely good handling. For every Lebron James, Tiger Woods, and Paula Creamer there are dozens upon dozens of failures. Slowly but surely, most team sport associations are amending or have amended their policies regarding the age at which individuals become eligible for competition. The NBA recently upped the ante to the age of ninetten, or one year out of high school. The NFL requires a player to be three years removed from high school. Now, I don’t doubt Michelle Wie’s golfing ability at all. She’s a 6’2″ 16 year-old girl whose average drive is a solid 295 yards – a good 25 yards farther than what I average. She is possibly the most marketable female athlete ever, and could be so for years to come. I cannot deny the lure of millions of dollars. There are times when I wish that was me on TV, holding the first place check. But I can’t help but have this gut feeling that I too would have trouble dealing with the lows of life as a professional…professional anything. Yeah, the perks are incredible, but I don’t even want to think about Michelle Wie’s fears one week into her pro career. That’ll happen when I’m prepared, after college.