It's always interesting to go inside the numbers at an event like the Women's Amateur and see what the stats dictate. One of the things I always do when I cover the Women's Amateur is look at the age breakdown, and it's fascinating to see where the amateur game is going. In this case, it's going younger and younger.
If you went back 25 years, you might find a handful of juniors (ages 17 and under) playing in the Women's Amateur. Today, the field is almost 33 percent made up of players who have yet to turn 18. In fact, 49 golfers in this year's championship are 17 and under.
There are almost as many 16-year-olds (12) playing as 21-year-olds (13).
Those 19 and 20 years of age make up just more than 33 percent of the field, led by 29 golfers who are 19 years old. We have 26 players who are 20. The next largest group is the 17-year-olds, where 24 are represented.
Only 11 mid-amateurs (25 years and older) are in the field, and six got here via exemptions through reaching last year's U.S. Women's Mid-Amateur or USGA Senior Women's Amateur title or, in the case of Martha Leach and Sherry Herman, winning the 2009 Women's Mid-Amateur and Senior Women's Amateur titles, respectively.
So what does that say? It means more and more of the elite female players are turning professional at an earlier age. It's common now to see top female players turn pro either prior to or after graduating high school.
Think of the young golfers who could still be in college/high school today that would be in this year's field: Alexis Thompson, Jessica Korda, Vicky Hurst, Jenny Shin, Ginger Howard and Michelle Wie.
Juli Inkster, a three-time Women's Amateur champion, made a comment at her pre-Women's Open media conference that what she accomplished in the early 1980s (winning three consecutive Women's Ams) likely won't happen again. Players are more likely to turn pro after winning one.
Somebody commented this week that it was nice to have a defending champion in the field. Yes, Danielle Kang is playing this week, but this is her final amateur event. She plans to turn pro not long after the competition concludes. You have to go back to 2007 when the Women's Amateur had the defending champion in the field (Kimberly Kim). When Mariajo Uribe won in 2007, she opted to play the Women's British Open rather than defend her title.
Such is the nature of golf, especially women's golf, in the year 2011. -- David Shefter