You might have noticed Kathryn Newton playing a young Colby Chandler on a couple of episodes of the ABC soap opera All My Children.
You might have caught her in the role of Louise Brooks on Gary Unmarried, the CBS comedy that aired from 2008-2010.
If you’ve seen the 2011 movie Bad Teacher, Newton had a prominent role as junior high diva Chase Rubin-Rossi, alongside Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake.
But this summer, the 15-year-old Newton would like to take a different star turn on the grandest stage in women’s golf.
Newton has been auditioning for television and movie roles since she was 4. Now she has taken the next step in her golf development by entering the 2012 U.S. Women’s Open.
“I am ready,” said Newton by phone from Studio City, Calif., where she has lived the past four years. “I was born ready.”
She was definitely born into golf. Her father, David, played two years at Platte Junior College in Nebraska, where he qualified for the National Junior College Championship (he wasn’t able to go due to lack of funds), and one year at the University of Colorado. After graduation, his Index was a plus-2 and he briefly dabbled in Florida pro-ams.
“I would win tournaments and the most you could win [as an amateur] was $200 in prizes [from the pro shop],” said David Newton.
David Newton first put a club in Kathryn’s hand when she was a toddler and by the time she was 8, she had fallen in love with the game. Four years ago, she broke 80 for the first time. Last fall, she starred as a freshman on the varsity at Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks, Calif., helping the Knights to a regional title. A 79 at the individual sectional finals – she played her final five holes in one under par – put her in the state qualifier. A disappointing 95 at The Golf Club at Rancho California left Newton far off the cutline to reach the state finals.
Nevertheless, Newton’s success last fall was a motivating factor to improve. While playing a tournament in Hemet, Calif., she was paired with Jisoo Park, a semifinalist in the 2009 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links who is coached by 2001 U.S. Junior Amateur champion Henry Liaw. Liaw, the head pro at Morongo Golf Club and an assistant coach at Division III Redlands University, approached Newton’s parents about working with her. The timing seemed right for Kathryn to receive expert instruction.
“Her game is very raw,” said Liaw. “I just think she needs more time and exposure. [But] she has a lot of potential.”
Newton, who carries a 3.3 grade-point average, admitted that it’s tough balancing acting, academics and golf. She recently finished a series of auditions for potential television pilots, and she nearly landed a role in the recently released smash-hit movie The Hunger Games.
Her mother, Robin, said that they are cautious about committing Kathryn to junior tournaments, knowing that she might get a last-minute call for an acting role.
Kathryn was first “discovered” during a family trip to New York City from their Coral Gables, Fla., home when she was 4. Robin took her to an agency and before many of her permanent teeth had even arrived, Kathryn was chosen for a minor role on All My Children.
“They dressed me up like a little doll,” said Kathryn. “I got to wear gowns. It was awesome. I probably thought I was playing dress-up every day.”
Newton worked alongside the likes of Susan Lucci, and Amanda Seyfried, who later starred in the Broadway smash Mama Mia!
The role on All My Children led to modeling sessions for photographers Kimberly Marciana (Guess) and Peter Lindbergh (The Gap) and appearances in posters for the clothing companies. She also appeared in two less-heralded short films, Abbie Down East (2002) and Bun-Bun (2003) before landing the role of Louise Brooks on the since-canceled Gary Unmarried four years ago. Shooting was in Los Angeles, so the family took up residence in Southern California.
The comedy earned a People’s Choice Award in 2009 for Favorite New TV Comedy. Newton also won two Young Artist Awards for Best Performance in a TV Comedy Series and Best Performance in a TV Series (Comedy or Drama).
One episode even had a golf theme. A makeshift green was created on the set and virtually the entire cast, including lead Jay Mohr, took part.
|Kathryn Newton has embraced her Hollywood celebrity. (Courtesy Newton Family)
“It was so awesome,” said Newton, recalling the episode. “We even had golf carts.”
She teamed up with two more golf fanatics while filming Bad Teacher, although Newton didn’t realize at the time that Diaz played the game. She was aware that Timberlake has a passion for the game and challenged him to a match, which has yet to take place.
In Bad Teacher, Newton played Chase Rubin-Rossi, the love interest of Garrett Tiara (Matthew J. Evans). Tiara tries to get Rubin-Rossi’s attention by writing poetry, but his romantic advances are turned away, leading him to confide in Diaz, who helps him through his difficulties.
“He makes a fool of himself in front of everybody,” said Newton, “and I definitely shut him down.”
Since the movie’s release, Newton said, she has received a few stares, but not often on the golf course. Around school or at the mall, she often hears, “You’re that girl in Bad Teacher,” a lot. “I hope people know that I am actually not like my character. The boys [in school] are definitely not writing me poetry or anything. I love that people loved the movie.”
Newton embraces her minor celebrity and isn’t bothered by the attention. Unlike teen matinee idols such as Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, the paparazzi aren’t snapping pictures for the tabloids. She admitted to being apprehensive about approaching Australian-born teen singer Cody Simpson, who occasionally hits balls at the same local driving range where she practices.
Such inhibitions haven’t been a problem on the set, where Newton’s mom was startled to discover that Kathryn could read a script as a 4-year-old.
Now she’s excelling at reading greens.
“I love putting,” she says. “I love to practice my short game.”
Excelling as a golfer on the Hollywood scene has helped Newton get invited to some top-flight events. She has twice participated in Kevin Sorbo’s World Fit For Kids Celebrity Golf Tournament in Las Vegas and Napa Valley.
Jim Burrows, the director for Gary Unmarried, invited Newton to posh Bel-Air Country Club, where she shot one under par over the final nine holes on a course that has hosted a U.S. Amateur and USGA Senior Amateur. The nationally ranked UCLA women’s golf team was practicing on the day she played. Newton aspires to someday play at UCLA, while also enrolling in the university’s world-class film school.
“That’s my dream,” she said.
In late March, Newton participated in the two-day celebrity pro-am at the Kraft Nabisco Championship in Rancho Mirage, Calif., where she was paired with 2009 Women’s British Open champion Catriona Matthew and Amy Hung. While grouped the first day with Hung and Morgan Pressel’s fiancé, Andy Bush, Newton’s group posted a winning 16-under total. Newton said Bush holed out an approach shot from 107 yards on the first hole for an eagle-2.
One day prior to the pro-am, Newton enjoyed a practice round with amateur Jaye Marie Green, who is like Newton a native south Floridian. Green, who qualified for the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open, figured that Newton was practicing for the Kraft Nabisco Legacy Junior Challenge, an 18-hole pro-am event where the winner (Alison Lee) was awarded a spot in the Kraft Nabisco field.
“She didn’t know that I was an actress and that gave me so much confidence,” said Newton of Green, who made the 36-hole cut.
The Kraft was Newton’s first-ever exposure to a women’s professional event and she cherished the experience, posing for pictures on the range with LPGA Tour stars Pressel, Michelle Wie and Alexis Thompson. She also met Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez as well as entertainers Alice Cooper and Larry David.
During the pro-am, she carefully studied how her professional partners handled on-course situations.
“I could really tell they were focused,” she said. “Amy [Hung] told me she had played since she was 8. It shows just how much dedication you have to have. They had great etiquette. They didn’t get mad if they hit a bad shot. They were just great role models. I want to be like them.”
Liaw envisions Newton being successful in the game, at least as an amateur. The problem may be balancing her two loves: acting and golf.
“The biggest thing she needs work on … is spending time playing tournaments,” said Liaw. “She’s not used to the pressure that goes on with the game of golf. She’ll be making great swings and there will come one shot where you go, ‘Where did that come from?’ That happens with even great players. I told her parents it’s all about how she wants to approach it.
“Obviously she’s done very well in acting. It’s what her priorities are going to be. It’s going to be really hard to be great at full-time acting and full-time golf. You can accomplish both, but one is going to kind of have to suffer.”
Newton spent most of the spring on her golf. During spring break in early April, she returned to Florida and played every day at The Biltmore, the Coral Gables resort where her father has a membership. David Newton, a vice president for a Miami-based freight company, still plays four to five times a week and can shoot in the low 70s.
David says Kathryn is getting close to being able to beat him, although she playfully ribbed him by saying, “He thinks he’s a good player.”
Even if Kathryn doesn’t become an elite player, David said she has already exceeded his expectations.
“She has grown to like golf the right way,” he said.
The upcoming USGA qualifiers – Kathryn will also play in sectionals for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links and U.S. Girls’ Junior – are barometers for Kathryn. Outside of high school and a few junior events, she has never competed against the caliber of golfers she’ll see at these qualifiers, especially the 36-hole Women’s Open sectional on May 31 at Industry Hills G.C.
Newton and Liaw both realize that qualifying for the Women’s Open field at this stage of her career would be miraculous, but Newton won’t know how her game stacks up against an elite field until she competes against them.
“The Women’s Open [qualifier] is just getting exposure to great players,” said Liaw. “It will be a little different than high school [matches]. But the Public Links is a possibility. The Girls’ Junior is a possibility.”
Newton agreed that making the Women’s Open field and playing against the likes of Paula Creamer, Wie, Thompson and Pressel would go well beyond her wildest dreams.
“I probably would go jump in a lake,” she said. “I would surely post it on Facebook.”
It’s one audition she would love to ace.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.