Pinehurst, North Carolina is known as “America’s Home of Golf.” It has been the stage for some of the game’s greatest memories. Who can forget the 1999 US Open, when Payne Stewart made the longest winning putt in the tournament’s history? That moment is now commemorated with a bronze statue behind the 18th green of Pinehurst No. 2. All the great players have graced Pinehurst with their presence. It is a special place that holds a great deal of history for the game of golf. However, many people may be surprised to learn that Pinehurst is also home to golf’s future.
In late July and early August, Pinehurst became the ultimate playground for the best golfers, ages 5-12, in the world. The 2008 US Kids Golf World Championship consisted of a record number of players from 45 states and 33 countries. The tournament returned to the Pinehurst area for the third straight year and utilized nine of the local golf courses: Midland Country Club, Mid Pines Golf Club, Longleaf Golf & Country Club, Whispering Pines Country Club, Little River Golf Resort, Talamore Resort and the No. 3, 4 and 6 courses at Pinehurst Resort.
“Coming to Pinehurst is the highlight of my daughter’s year,” said John Scavo, father of Kathleen Scavo, the Girls 10 champion. “Everything about US Kids Golf and the World Championship is first-class. It is definitely one event we wouldn’t miss.”
The girls came out in record numbers for this year’s event with over 400 players competing in six different age groups. A new addition for 2008 was the Girls 7 & Under division. Previously, the youngest age group for girls to compete in was 8 & Under.
“The demand and quality of play in the youngest girl’s age group had increased so much we felt it was time add the new division and level the playing field for the younger competitors,” said Chris Vonderkall, Director of Golf Operations for the US Kids Golf Foundation.
This year’s female champions include: Mao Zeting of China (Girls 7 & Under); Naomi Mitchell of Norfolk, VA (Girls 8); Clare Amelia Legaspi of the Philippines (Girls 9); Kathleen Scavo of Benicia, CA (Girls 10); Marijosse Navarro of Mexico (Girls 11); and Yue Er “Cindy” Feng of China (Girls 12).
The US Kids Golf World Championship is in its ninth year, dating back to the 2000 event held at the Jekyll Island Golf Club in Jekyll Island, GA. In 2003, the championship moved to Williamsburg, VA, which served as the host for three consecutive years. As the event continued to expand, the World Championship relocated in 2006 to its current home of Pinehurst, NC. The 2009 World Championship will take place August 6-8, 2009 and the World Cup, a match play event for the top finishers in the 12-year-old divisions will be played on August 9.
US Kids Golf, LLC was established in 1997 and in only eleven years has grown to become the world’s leading manufacturer of youth golf equipment. The commitment to helping kids learn and enjoy the game of golf for a lifetime led to the formation of the US Kids Golf Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, in 2001. The mission of the US Kids Golf Foundation is to provide kids and their families the opportunity to participate in the game of golf in a competitive format. The objective in conducting these events is to provide an environment for kids to further develop their golfing skills and learn basic sportsmanship principles that will help them as they grow and develop. Today the organization conducts over 400 local, regional, national and international events.
Girls 7 & Under – Mao Zeting, China
Mao Zeting earned her spot into the US Kids Golf World Championship through a qualifier held in her home country of China. The first-ever Girls 7 & Under champion carded rounds of 34-35-40 to finish at one-over-par for the championship, edging out Latanna Stone of Bradon, FL and Isabella Fierro of Mexico by just one stroke. The World Championship was Mao’s first US Kids Golf competition and her victory will grant her lifetime entry into all future World Championships for which she is age-eligible.
Girls 8 – Naomi Mitchell, Virginia
The third time was a charm for Naomi Mitchell of Norfolk, VA. Finishing in the top 25 in 2006 as a six-year-old in the Girls 8 & Under division and just off the podium in 2007, she carded an even-par 108 to win the 2008 Girls 8 title by two strokes over runner-up Maddy Vergura of Concord, MA.
Naomi began playing golf at the age of two and entered her first competition at age five. She places a huge emphasis on her short game during her three-to-four-hour daily practice sessions, but also realizes the importance of fine tuning her technique in all aspects of the game. Shonn Mitchell, Naomi’s father has been her biggest influence in learning the game of golf. She recalls her hole-in-one on September 23, 2006 at Sewell’s Point Golf Course in Norfolk, VA, as her best golf memory so far. Her favorite LPGA player is Michelle Wie.
Naomi qualified for this year’s World Championship by winning the 2008 Jekyll Island Cup. She said her favorite thing about the 2008 World Championship was making four birdies in a row (holes five through eight) on the front nine during round one at Longleaf Golf & Country Club. When she is not busy preparing for tournaments, Naomi likes to spend time reading, playing video games and watching movies. She will be looking to defend her Regional Championship title this February at the 2009 US Kids Golf Jekyll Island Cup in Jekyll Island, GA.
Girls 9 – Clare Amelia Legaspi, Philippines
Clare Amelia Legaspi is no stranger to the World Championship winner’s circle. After finishing runner-up in 2006, Clare Amelia took home the 2007 Girls 8 & Under title. She came back just as determined in 2008, recording a one-under-par 35 in the final round to secure first-place in the Girls 9 division and her second straight World Championship victory. Her three-day total of 108 was enough to hold off second place finisher Haley Moore of Escondido, CA.
Her 2007 victory gives Clare Amelia a life-time invitation to all future World Championships for which she is age-eligible. She and her sister, Maria Andrea Legaspi, 15, originally qualified for the 2006 World Championship through the international application process. Maria Andrea finished runner-up in 2006 in the Girls 12 division.
Girls 10 – Kathleen Scavo, California
The Girls 10 competition concluded in dramatic fashion. Kathleen Scavo, of Benicia, CA, made a lengthy putt to eagle the 27th and final hole, winning the championship and avoiding a five-person playoff. The four-under-par 104 was just enough to earn her first World Championship title. This was Kathleen’s third appearance at the World Championship. After winning her local World Championship Qualifier in 2006, she took home third-place honors in the Girls 8 & Under division and followed it up with a fourth-place finish in 2007.
Kathleen took up golf in her back yard at the age of six and has already recorded three hole-in-ones. When playing whiffle ball with her dad, she would golf the ball back to him instead of throwing it. Her parents decided to take her to see Tom Wade, a golf instructor who still serves as Kathleen’s teacher and caddie. She practices four to five times a week, but in her free time, Kathleen likes to watch football and travel to college games with her family. She also enjoys playing tennis and jogging.
Wade has been the biggest influence in Kathleen’s golf career, but there is also tremendous support from her family. “We don’t push her at all,” said father John Scavo. “She has a true passion and respect for the game.” Kathleen is also a good student and works hard to insure that she brings home good grades. In addition to perfecting her game, Wade reminds her that colleges are looking for great students that are good golfers. Someday, Kathleen hopes to attend Duke University or the University of Texas.
Girls 11 – Marijosse Navarro, Mexico
Marijosse Navarro competed in her sixth World Championship in 2008. Her first experience at the Championship was in 2003 at the age of six when she placed fifth in the Girls 8 & Under division. In 2004, Marimosse finished in a solid second place, but finally captured her first World Championship title in 2005. In 2006, she competed in the US Kids Golf Jekyll Island Cup where she carded an impressive six-under-par 66, winning the event by five shots.
Marijosse has won every US Kids Golf event in which she has participated since 2005. By carding a two-under-par final round score of 70, she clinched the Girls 11 championship by two strokes over runner-up Samantha Wagner of Easton, PA, taking home her fourth-straight World Championship title. In 2009, Marijosse will attempt to win her fifth straight World Championship, this time in the Girls 12 division.
Girls 12 – Yue Er “Cindy” Feng, Florida
Cindy Feng has been competing in US Kids Golf World Championship since 2003 when she finished runner-up in the Girls 8 & Under division at age 7. Since then, Cindy has taken home three World Championship titles as well as a first-place finish at the 2007 Jekyll Island Cup. This year, she recorded three sub-par rounds of 68-66-66 on Pinehurst No. 3 to claim the Girls 12 championship by ten strokes over South Africa’s Shannon Aubert for her second straight win. When asked how it felt to win the World Championship, Cindy said, “It was a great pleasure to win this tournament back-to-back and I'm very glad I did well.”
A native of China, Cindy began playing golf at the age of four. She now resides in Florida where she takes lessons. She practices daily and participates in an average of two tournaments every month. Cindy’s father has been her biggest influence in the game. Cindy’s favorite thing about the World Championship is having fun playing and meeting up with old friends. She has had a total of ten hole-in-ones in her lifetime, but it has been over four years since the last one. Her favorite PGA player is Tiger Woods. On rare occasions when she is not playing golf, Cindy enjoys fishing, reading and attempting to play the piano even though she says she is not very good at it!