News & Opinion

My shot: Why amateur golf, especially the junior game, could emerge from coronavirus stronger than ever

LPGA legend Annika Sorenstam focuses on building interest in golf among next generation of players

Throughout the recovery from coronavirus, Morning Read will ask industry experts and leaders one simple question: How will golf be different after coronavirus? Here are the previous entries:

Handshakes may become passe, by Fox Sports consultant Dan O’Neill

Appreciating the game like never before, by bestselling author Tom Coyne

Annika Sorenstam junior golf
Annika Sorenstam strives to encourage the next generation of golfers.

Professional golf is ramping up to return in June, and as a former touring pro, I find that to be exciting news. But these days, my focus is on the amateur game, and the timeline to resume amateur tournaments is much less clear.

This uncertainty extends to countless junior events – golf tournaments, camps, clinics and group lessons – that are so crucial to kids’ building a lifelong love affair with the game.

According to the National Golf Foundation, there are between 2.5 million and 3 million junior golfers in the U.S. And though this range has remained steady in recent years, the share of female junior golfers has increased significantly, from 15 percent in 2000 to 36 percent today.

While we’re admittedly all in uncharted waters when it comes to coronavirus, I believe that the considerable momentum golf has built in the junior ranks will continue despite the pandemic.

As we’ve seen, more and more golf courses have opened across the country as the weather has warmed up and operating procedures have been adjusted to allow for social distancing. So long as the safety guidelines are followed, it appears that golf can be a great escape for families to get outside, exercise and have a little fun. Then, as we slowly open the country in the coming weeks and months, I’m hopeful that opportunities for individual and small group lessons will return.

I’m less sure, however, about the chances of national or global junior tournaments returning any earlier than August. My Annika Foundation, for example, decided to cancel our two junior events scheduled for June in Sweden – the Annika Invitational Europe and Annika Cup. While disappointed, we felt it was best to follow the guidance of local officials and ensure the health and well-being of our players and their families, tournament organizers, volunteers and vendors. This followed the cancellation of our February event in China.

A possible silver lining to these difficult decisions about tournaments at the global and national level is that local junior events – if held – could see much stronger fields than usual this summer. Competitors are going to want to remain sharp, and playing tournaments within a short drive of home could be their best option. This change of scenery, and perhaps greater opportunities to win, could be beneficial to them, as well. As has been said, there are many things to be learned from playing the back nine with a lead, no matter the competition. Or put another way, winning often can lead to more winning.

Although there undoubtedly are short-term challenges to overcome during these unprecedented times, I don’t foresee long-term changes to junior golf and how it’s played and taught. If anything, I think golf stands a great chance to emerge from the crisis more popular than ever, as people of all ages are increasingly drawn to its outdoor setting, opportunity for exercise and many other positive attributes.

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