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Golf: The lure of turning professional at an early age

The Grateful Golfer speaks about the positive and negative aspects of turning professional at an early age.

The lucrative draw of professional sports weighs heavily on young athletes.  The value of earning millions of dollars while still in their teens vice having a normal childhood is a hotly debated topic.

Recently, Lydia Ko of New Zealand petitioned and received permission to join the professional golfing ranks.  Her amateur successes, which include two LPGA tournament wins, suggest she has the skill and mentally game for the big league. Interestingly, the manner in which she announced her decision was truly genius.  Ko laid the foundation for financial success even if she never reaches her lauded potential.

Lydia Ko is not the first athlete to enter the élite ranks at an early age.  Michael Andrew, a fourteen year old swimming superstar turned pro by signing his first endorsement deal this summer; Venus Williams turned pro at fourteen years old and dominate the professional tennis world for years; Rory McIlroy turned pro at seventeen and rose to the world’s number one ranking; Cristiano Ronaldo was seventeen when this soccer phenom set the football world on fire; finally, Michelle Wie turned pro at sixteen and immediately made an impact by competing in men’s professional golfing tournaments.  Do these current and future superstars provide enough substantiation for young players to kick their amateur status to the curb?

Unfortunately, for every success story there are many not so successful stories.  The pressure for young athletes to rocket into the professional ranks can be unbearable. Making millions of dollars early in life is a dream for most and something pursued by the masses.  Moreover, why not?  Being financially secure in your teens has the potential to fulfill all your goals and open many doors for future endeavours.

There are positives and negatives of turning pro too early.  Is turning pro at sixteen really any better than turning pro at twenty?  Before you answer, the question requires further examination.

Turning pro early in life does have benefits.  Such as:

  • Financial.  The obvious financial aspect of making millions of dollars, usually through endorsements, is the first benefit.  Proper management, unlike tennis star Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, and having the right team in place is very lucrative.
  • Injury.  The longer most players wait to enter the élite ranks of their sport, the greater the chances of injury.  An injured young superstar reduces their appeal to the masses.
  • Benefits to the Sport.  Turning pro early allows the sport, in Lydia Ko’s case the LPGA, to leverage the young superstar’s appeal.  In some cases, it opens new markets and demographic groups not fully tapped.
  • Provides Hope.  Young amateurs will follow and emulate young professional athletes. The possibility of playing professional sports at a young age is a dream of many teenagers.  Ffourteen year old Chinese golfer Guan Tianlang, who stunned the world at the Masters in 2013, provides hope for the all youth.

However, there are negative aspects to an amateur reaching the elite ranks too early. They could be:

  • Immaturity.  Young players may not be able to handle the pressures of being a pro athlete. Touted as a superstar, the pressure is even greater.  Some difficulty may arise when having to make financial and personal decisions with a long-term impact.
  • Physical Development. Playing at the professional level is demanding. Young players generally developed fast and can periodically compete at the élite level.  However, the demands of professional sports on a developing body could lead to injuries that may ultimately cut a player’s career short.
  • Lack of Education.  Society has a paradigm that all young people should go to school first and then seek a career.  The belief is that higher education better prepares athletes for the demands of their chosen field.
  • Loss of Childhood. Early entry into the world of professional sports forces young athletes to grow up quicker than normal.  They lose the opportunity to be young and foolish because of demands on their time and expectations to win.  Companies who endorse young athletes have expectations of how an athlete acts on and off the field; these expectations can rob a player of childhood experiences.

There are positive and negative aspects of turning pro early.  Most young players who compete at the elite level understand some of the challenges and demands of playing professional sports.  Unfortunately, there are still those associated with the young player who will take advantage of their naivety.  Unfortunately, no matter what venture pursued, there will always be vultures.

Before deciding if turning pro early is good or bad, consider if your objections are the same for non-athlete superstars like: Adora Svitak, Savannah Britt, Philip Hartman or Mark Bao. These young entrepreneurs are leaders in their chosen field of interest. Would anyone consider telling them to stop and wait until after college before pursuing their dream?

No matter which side of the fence you fall, there will always be young prodigies. There is a fine balance to turning pro early, but who really decides?

Pundit Arena . The Grateful Golfer.

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Author: The PA Team

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