At the time of first being introduced to the game of golf, not one of our six former junior golfers could have ever realized the impact that the game would have on their life. The knowledge and wisdom gained about life and business, teaching them integrity, discipline, and respect. The whole time while developing their skills in the game, they were also developing life skills that would eventually lead them down the path of their ultimate career choice.
If you have a child or grandchild give them the greatest gift in life by getting them involved in golf. In this high tech society, we live in it is easy to allow your kids to get caught up in social media, technology, and computer games. Encourage them to get out and exercise, socialize with their friends at the golf course. Golf is a sport of a lifetime and will teach them the keys to success in life.
A current professional golfer, Blair O’Neal has competed on the LPGA Symetra Tour and will also compete this year in LPGA Monday qualifiers, The Cactus Tour, and the Ladies European Tour. However, Blair got her start competing in junior golf events throughout Arizona. JGAA was her main place of competition, but she played in every junior golf program available. It was in these events that she began to develop her golf and life skills.
“Playing junior golf was the first step in my tournament career and it taught me so many life lessons. It taught me never to give up, how to deal with adversity, and what it takes to win. Competing at the junior level was vital to my career and was necessary to grow as a competitor.”
Blair’s junior career was extremely successful and she was one of the top girl’s in the state. During high school, she won the Women’s Arizona 5A State Championship and played in a variety of tournaments. Her golfing achievements were so successful that Blair went on to earn a full ride scholarship at Arizona State University. All of these major accomplishments started with the junior golf events she played in.
“I wouldn’t have been able to achieve those accomplishments without the ground work provided to me by the junior golf programs. Despite the many ups and down, golf has given me so much.”
Some of what golf has given Blair includes the opportunities to travel the world while competing in professional tournaments and meeting exceptionally people. Golf has opened the world to her.
“I believe that playing golf when you are young teaches you respect, maturity, focus, and commitment. It’s a special game, and despite not owing you anything, it gives indefinitely.”
A familiar face to viewers of the Golf Channel, Sara Radley is the current host of the show Playing Lessons, and the co-host of School of Golf. However, Sara says that golf was not always something she had the desire to thrive at.
“Golf was a sport my brother Josh played and I didn’t really have the desire but after he helped me I went out and played and I loved it!”
Growing up in Tucson, Sara played in every junior golf program she could, whether it was the Ricki Rarick Program, JGAA, The El Rio Junior League (which was one her parents helped run), or the Roadrunners Girls Club (now the LPGA Girls Golf Club). She used her dedication to the sport to earn spots in larger junior events around the country and eventually earn a scholarship to play golf at Michigan State University. After her time at Michigan State, Sara turned professional and played for seven years. Junior golf was the first step in her path to all of these achievements.
“I couldn’t have done any of this without starting at the junior level and working my way up! These programs prepared me for college golf and ultimately playing on the LPGA tour.”
Sara has been married for just over a year now to as she says, “The BEST guy in the world Derek Radley.” They live in Tucson Arizona where Derek is the assistant coach for the University of Arizona Women’s Golf Team. She now has what she can only describe as a dream life and job working for the Golf Channel.
She understands the challenge golf can be at times, but she definitely loves the game. “You can golf play whether you are young or old. Golf teaches you how to handle not only the good, but also the bad! It is a game of sportsmanship, integrity and humility! It’s a grind but it’s all worth it for the lifelong friendships I have made because of the game of golf. Golf is a great game!”
Erin grew up as a navy brat, but golf found her a place in the community and later a career. Even though Phoenix is a large city, the golfing community embraced Erin and made the city feel much more like a small town. She competed on the JGAA circuit and on the LPGA USGA Girls Golf Club during her youth and she found more than just people to play golf with.
“The friendships and camaraderie were why we got up at 5a.m. every day on our summer vacations in the blistering heat. These programs provided me with an opportunity to elevate my game and to grow as a person.”
The bonds formed during those summers didn’t end when Erin and her fellow players moved on from junior golf. They became college roommates or competitors, and then they turned into fellow colleagues in the golf industry. Now Erin has turned her love of golf into a career as the USGA Programs Manager at the Arizona Women’s Golf Association. However, golf taught her so much more than how to hit a ball.
“I truly believe that there is no better sport for kids to get involved in. Golf is a game you can play for life, it teaches you about integrity, honor, patience, and life in general. I have learned more about myself while on a golf course than anywhere else.”
Erin has become an example of the value of junior golf and how it is about more than just getting kids out of the house.
“It is safe to say that without the junior programs in Arizona I would not be where I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful. Golf is truly the greatest game ever played.”
Currently the Marketing Director for the Southwest Section PGA, Frank inherited the love of golf from his father, a former PGA Tour player during the 70’s and 80’s. Although born after his father’s PGA tour career, Frank still got the golf bug and played competitively while growing up in a small town on the border of Arizona, Nevada, and California. He mainly competed on the SWSPGA Junior Tour (also known as the Antigua Junior Tour) and golf became a valuable tool for him.
“The events were fun and helped cultivate my love for this game. Junior golf opened a whole new world of opportunities. I was able to earn a college scholarship and take some of the financial burden off of myself (really my parents).”
However, the scholarship was just one of the numerous benefits of playing golf, as it led to Frank becoming a PGA member and earning a career in the golfing industry. Also, the lessons learned have stayed with him since his junior golf days.
“Golf taught me some life skills that are very important like honesty, integrity, patience, and commitment. It has a positive effect on your health, it can foster friendships, and it is rewarding when you practice and track your progress.”
Frank found that golf provides more benefits to junior players than activities such as staring at a television all day.
“Junior golf will get you outside vs. at home playing video games. It allows you to spend quality time with friends, family, and helps develop your character. Golf is a game that you can play for a lifetime.”
A PGA Member and the Southwest Section PGA Golf Pass and Online Activity Director, he credits a large part of his success to the junior golf programs he grew up with. Sean started as a golfer with the Bellair G.C. junior program in Glendale at the age of 14. Bellair was the first junior program to help him learn and improve.
“The members of Bellair G.C. made it a point to promote the junior golfers at the club and give them opportunities to grow. They gave me the opportunity to play the game in tournaments – like the SWSPGA Junior Tour – outside of the club.”
Sean continued with junior golf as he played on the SWSPGA Junior Tour and also in a large number of JGAA tournaments. One story he tells is of his first tournament outside Bellair, it was the Willie Low Championship and it was won by Billy Mayfair, a future PGA Tour player. These programs and tournaments were what pointed Sean in the direction he wanted to go in life.
“Growing up at the golf course and around the people who ran the courses and the tournaments gave me direction and focus on what I wanted to do with my life. Although I did not play golf in college on a scholarship, the choice of where I went to college and what career I chose to pursue is a direct result of the passion for the game that was forged in me from my junior golf days.”
Sean is still friends with golfers he met during those blistering Arizona summers. He also understands all of the possibilities that golf provides, not just for a short time, but for a lifetime.
“It’s no lie when hear the term ‘golf is a game for a lifetime’. A lifetime of enjoyment, a lifetime of friendships, a lifetime of possibilities.”
A Tucson native, Mike Hayes can only be described as a golfer for life. He started on his track towards a career in golf by playing in as many as three different junior golf programs during the summer. It started with the Ricki Rarick program on Monday and Tuesday, and then on Friday he would play in the Southwest Section of the PGA Junior Golf Program. Because those two weren’t enough, Mike would fit in a JGAA event whenever his schedule would allow. He mentioned that those tournaments kept him focused and opened a whole range of possibilities in golf.
“Being able to play competitive golf three days a week made us all much better, as well as kept us all too busy to get in any kind of trouble. It had a huge impact on our future as more than 20 of my peers at that time went on to play college golf, and later enter into the golf business.”
Mike, upon graduation from Salpointe High School in 1977, earned a scholarship to play at Pima Community College. Once his playing time was over at Pima, he decided to try his hand as a caddy, and spent three years caddying on the PGA TOUR. After that, Mike decided it was time to begin a career in the golf business. He began as an assistant golf pro at El Conquistador C.C. and became a member of the PGA of America. Afterwards, he moved from 49ers C.C. to Fred Enke G.C. before finally become Deputy Director of Tucson Parks and Rec, running its Golf Operation. Just last year he moved from Golf Operations to Park Operations. How did Mike achieve so much in the golf business?
“I believe a lot of this was made possible because of friendships and relationships I made playing High School Golf and Junior Golf in Tucson. The game of golf can teach us all valuable life skills like, respect, honesty, integrity, as well friendships that will last you a lifetime.”
Mike also knows that golf isn’t a game for only those who want to play in college or make a career out of it, it is a game meant for everybody.
“Golf is a game for life, and even if playing junior golf doesn’t get you a college scholarship, or you don’t go into the golf profession, you will be able to enjoy the game golf well into your later years. Personally some of my fonder memories were my times as a junior golfer, which has played a large role in who I am today.”