San Antonio – Lucy Nunn was like many collegiate golfers playing at the Division I level.
While competing at the University of Arkansas, she had aspirations of being an elite professional golfer and possibly joining fellow Razorback Stacy Lewis on the LPGA Tour.
But 2½ seasons into life on the Symetra Tour, Nunn’s career goals changed. An offer to become an assistant women’s golf coach at the University of Kentucky piqued her interest and the 25-year-old Oklahoma native left the pro circuit.
Brooke Williams also tried the Symetra Tour after a four-year career at Louisiana State University. Her stay was much shorter – six months to be exact. The now-29-year-old Williams wasn’t fond of the lifestyle, and she wanted to get a “normal” job and start a family.
Nunn and Williams still had a passion for the game, just not enough to play for a living.
Both became reinstated amateurs – Williams in 2009 and Nunn this past June – and they are among a group of 20 players in their 20s who are competing at this week’s U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur at Briggs Ranch Golf Club.
It’s a larger than usual number for this 25-and-over national championship, which has seen limited participation from that age demographic in recent years.
Consider that this week’s field of 132 has more competitors in their 50s (47) than in their 20s and 30s combined (41). Players in their 40s and 50s make up 65 percent of the field.
Why doesn’t this championship attract more young players?
There are several reasons.
Virtually every top collegian or amateur becomes a professional at some point, some before they even reach college age. If they retire from golf as a professional, they move into another career or start a family, making it difficult to maintain competitive form for top amateur or USGA championships. Many simply get burned out after years of competition.
“It’s just the difficulty of getting back into the sport after you’ve been in it for so long,” said three-time Women’s Mid-Amateur champion Meghan Stasi, who claimed her first title in 2006 at the age of 28, while she was the head women’s golf coach at the University of Mississippi. “I mean, these kids start when they are so young, and then they are tired. So to not lose that love and passion, you’ve got to take a break from it or just get away from it a little bit and [eventually] come back.”
Stasi never turned pro, although she did enter LPGA Tour Qualifying School as an amateur. She eventually found a niche in the amateur game, and her success has led her to a berth on a USA Curtis Cup Team (2008). The Women’s Mid-Amateur also gives her a chance to compete on a high level without having to face the young talent one sees at the U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“I love this week,” said Stasi, now 34. “It’s the best week. It’s fun. [And] everybody wants to win.”
Nunn didn’t mind the travel of the professional game, but realized last summer that she wanted a steady paycheck and professional golf couldn’t provide that.
It’s a decision she hasn’t regretted. Now she gets to travel, work with talented collegians and still play. She regained her amateur status this summer and qualified for the Women’s Amateur (where she missed the cut) and the Women’s Mid-Amateur in her first year of eligibility.
“It’s a lot different than any other event,” she said of the Mid-Amateur. “It’s not, ‘Where do you go to school? What are you going to do when you graduate? Are you going to turn pro?’ I played with an investment banker from Manhattan (New York) who has two kids in my practice round. Everyone has lives outside of golf and it’s awesome.”
|Age Breakdown Of 2012 Women's Mid-Amateur
|25-29 Years Old: 20 players
30-39 Years Old: 21 players
40-49 Years Old: 39 players
50-59 Years Old: 47 players
60-69 Years Old: 4 players
70 and above: 1 player
Williams fits that mold, too. Her last competitive event before this week was the 2010 Women’s Mid-Amateur, when she lost to Stasi in the semifinals. Since then, she had a baby girl – Avery is now 13 months old – and spends most of her time working (she works for Nike Golf in the sports marketing department) or with her husband, Jayson, and daughter.
That doesn’t leave much time for golf.
With an exemption into the field and the event being held in Texas, the Fort Worth resident decided to enter, despite the dearth of competitive rounds. The championship was close enough to make it a family trip.
“I have played maybe 10 times this year,” said Williams, who shot 73-75 to easily advance to match play.
Williams isn’t sure how many more USGA championships she will compete in over the next 15 to 20 years. Family has become her No. 1 priority and her job doesn’t afford too many days off.
“I want to save my time off from work for kid-related stuff and family vacations,” she said. “I don’t have the time off to go to a bunch of these events.”
Therein lies the quandary for the Women’s Mid-Amateur. Martha Lang, the chairman of the USGA Women’s Committee and the 1988 champion, has noticed the trend toward “older” competitors at this championship. She would like to see more 25- to 35-year-olds entered because she know it adds to the quality of the field.
“We have struggled to get that group,” said Lang. “This event really needs them.”
Players such as 27-year-old Mercedes Huarte could add depth to that demographic. The Argentina native came to the U.S. at 18 to attend Jacksonville (Ala.) State University on a golf scholarship. She graduated in 2008 and later earned a masters in business ddministration there. Now married, Huarte is a financial analyst for Cisco Systems in Atlanta.
Huarte briefly thought about turning pro, but she didn’t have the finances to make a go of it. But she never gave up the love for golf and has found the Women’s Mid-Amateur to be the perfect event to remain competitive. She was one of 10 golfers in their 20s to make match play, shooting 72-79 for a 151 total.
“I always wanted to keep playing,” said Huarte. “I educated myself a little bit [on this championship] … so hopefully more people will give it a shot.”
Williams said it’s only natural for top collegians to at least try the professional game. Nobody wants to look back with regret.
Nunn, who hopes to be a head coach someday, sees many of her college rivals still trying to fulfill professional dreams of stardom. Yet playing the Women’s Mid-Amateur has re-energized her love for amateur golf. Being a few years older, she said she is a mentally stronger player now than she was during her college days.
“I still have that fire, which is why I am here,” said Nunn, who carded a 4-over 75 on Sunday after opening with a 71. “Taking this [coaching] job helped me realize what I wanted to do with golf.
“It’s hard going week to week knowing that your pay depends on how you play. I [now] have a steady income, which is nice. I still travel twice as much [now] with recruiting and with team [for tournaments]. I was always the kid in college [that] if we were home for more than two weeks, I was antsy.
“I’ve got the best job ever, hands down.”
Nunn and others such as Williams, Huarte and 25-year-old “USGA rookie” Mariko Makabe, who also finished at 4-over 148 and easily made match play, have given the Women’s Mid-Amateur a positive injection of youth. In the past 25 Women’s Mid-Amateurs, only five golfers under 30 have claimed the title, with Stasi doing it twice and Sarah Lebrun Ingram winning three times before retiring from competitive golf. Ingram is the only one to have won in her first year of eligibility (25 years, 3 months, 26 days).
Williams said she could envision herself playing more golf once Avery has entered college and her regular career reaches its twilight. She wouldn’t be alone. Some in this year’s field have done exactly that. Noreen Mohler played briefly on the LPGA Tour before raising a son and not playing competitively for more than 20 years. The 58-year-old restaurant owner from Bethlehem, Pa., eventually returned to the game as a senior golfer and has enjoyed success, which included a stint as USA Curtis Cup captain in 2010.
“When they’re ready … they’ll come back,” said Stasi of this younger generation of golfers who either have chosen not to play professional golf or have come back after giving it a try. “I think it would be great for the game.”
And even better for the Women’s Mid-Amateur.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.