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Old College Try Paying Off for USC’s Avery

By David Shefter, USGA

| Jun 8, 2022 | Ardmore, Pa.

USA Curtis Cup competitor Amari Avery has enjoyed a huge jump in the WAGR, going from No. 215 in 2020 to No. 15 currently. (USGA/Chris Keane)

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When the COVID-19 pandemic virtually shut down the world in 2020, Amari Avery hit the pause button. Not with her golf game, but rather her decision-making process.

The hiatus gave the Riverside, Calif., resident a chance to take a step back and re-evaluate her future. Was she ready to take on the rigors of professional golf at 18? Or should she give college a shot?

For many years, the idea of attending college seemed as distant as the next galaxy. Amari and her father, Andre, had carefully calculated a timeline the moment she began winning junior tournaments at age 6.

Physically, Avery possessed all the tools to join the play-for-pay ranks. She displayed those skills last year when she qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open and competed in the LPGA Tour’s Cognizant Founders Cup on a sponsor’s invitation.

By then, Avery realized the bigger picture. Even though the dream of playing on the LPGA Tour remains as strong as ever, that goal could be realized after taking advantage of the experience provided by college golf.

“A member at Bear Creek, my home course in [Murrieta, Calif.], is [PGA Tour Champions player] Tom Pernice Jr., who is really supportive of my game,” said Avery. “He clearly meant it as a joke … but he said, ‘Are you sure you want to turn pro at No. 240 in WAGR (World Amateur Golf Ranking)?’”

Turns out enrolling at the University of Southern California in January was the right move. In just four months and nine starts as a Trojan, Avery has posted seven top 10s, including three wins (Houston, Long Beach and Stanford NCAA Regional). At the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April, an event in which she missed the cut in 2021, she contended deep into Saturday’s final round before tying for fourth, two strokes shy of champion Anna Davis. Her WAGR standing skyrocketed from No. 166 to her current mark of No. 15.

Then came the coup de grace. Avery, who was not even among the top 20 American amateurs six months ago, was named to the eight-woman USA Curtis Cup Team that will seek to retain the Cup against Great Britain & Ireland this week at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.

“I was overjoyed,” said Avery when USGA president Stu Francis delivered the news. “I called my dad right after I talked to Stu, and I could tell he was tearing up over the phone. He was very excited for me. I knew I could make this team, if it wasn’t going to be this year, then two years from now.”

The call completed a meteoric rise few saw coming in January. Avery had always been considered a top player in the high school Class of 2022, but her résumé lacked a major junior/amateur title.

“We thought she was very good. It’s why we recruited her,” said USC coach Justin Silverstein. “I didn’t know she would be this good this fast.”

Avery’s backstory has been well documented.

  • Same birthday as her idol, Tiger Woods (Dec. 30)
  • Similar ethnic background as Woods (Black father and Asian mother, although Maria Avery is Filipino, not Thai like Tida Woods).
  • Andre Avery, like Earl Woods, has a military background, having served 10 years in the U.S. Navy.
  • Andre used Earl’s book, “Training a Tiger: A Father’s Guide to Raising a Winner in Both Life and Golf” as his blueprint.

By age 8, the producers of a Netflix documentary caught notice of Avery’s talent. She was one of a handful of juniors featured in “The Short Game,” which followed prodigies through the ebbs and flows of competing in the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C.

Even 10 years after its release, Avery still is recognized from the documentary, something she is accustomed to. Yes, she’s aware of the intense encounters depicted with her father/caddie, but they have only strengthened their bond. She encourages aspiring golfers to watch.

While some phenoms fade from the spotlight, Avery’s trajectory has continued upward like one of her soaring drives. She has enjoyed success in multiple USGA championships – semifinalist in the 2019 U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball and Round of 16 in the 2018 U.S. Girls’ Junior – as well as winning the 2019 California Women’s Amateur. In 2021, she represented the USA on the Junior Solheim Cup Team.

To accommodate this, Andre and Maria decided to home-school their daughters; Amari’s 15-year-old sister, Alona, also is an up-and-coming golf talent. Amari started in sixth grade.

Silverstein and other coaches who recruited Avery wondered how she might assimilate to college life. Most of Avery’s social interactions happened at tournaments. But as the USC staff quickly discovered, Avery’s mega-watt smile and infectious personality rub off on everyone.

“Every single department that I talk to about her – whether it be compliance, academic or our trainers – they all say how engaged she is,” said Silverstein. “She was raised well; her parents deserve a ton of credit. She’s very well-mannered and incredibly disciplined.”


Amari Avery posted three victories in her first semester at USC this spring, helping her be selected to the USA Curtis Cup Team. (USGA/Chris Keane)

For Avery, the biggest adjustment was sitting in a classroom filled with students. When she showed up for her first class, there were more than 100 students. She literally cried upon entering the lecture hall and quietly found a seat in the back. When others started taking notes, she followed.

“It was an out-of-body experience,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”

At USC, Avery’s dorm mates are two water polo players and a swimmer. While she knew little about both disciplines, she has come to appreciate their talents and the training involved. In the classroom, she is making A’s in all but one class.

“I love school,” said Avery, who might not have uttered those words six months ago. “I know Coach Justin makes this joke that I am a lot smarter than I betray myself to be. I like to procrastinate. I love being productive.”

On the golf course, Silverstein backloaded USC’s schedule to allow for his newcomer to get plenty of reps. Avery, who was supposed to graduate high school in the spring of 2022, decided to speed up the process to enable her to enroll at USC a semester early.  

Silverstein knew of Avery’s intentions to turn professional. He told Amari and Andre that she could come to USC for one week, six months, a year or stay for the full 3½ years. He figured just getting her to campus might change her perspective of the college experience.

Now for the first time, she is playing on a team. Outside of four-ball events, Avery had only experienced golf as an individual. With teammates that include longtime Southern California rival and close friend Brianna Navarrosa, and fellow transplanted Californian Cindy Kou, Avery is cherishing playing for someone other than herself.

Even others outside the program have noticed the metamorphosis.

“She has been in the spotlight ever since she was young,” said Stanford freshman and fellow USA Curtis Cup teammate Rose Zhang. “Her being able to take a breath of fresh air in college and be part of a team, you can see that she is much happier, and more driven to what makes her comfortable.”

Avery also has bought into USC’s analytics. Like many incoming freshmen with elite credentials, she was a neophyte in course management, in evaluating intangibles such as wind, temperature and green speeds. Avery only played one way: aggressively.

Since taking a more tempered approach on the greens, Avery has gained one stroke per round. Instead of trying to make every putt, she’s learning to control her speed. More emphasis has been put on her short game as well.

Sean Foley, the renowned Florida-based instructor whose clients include 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose and PGA Tour winner Cameron Champ, has fine-tuned her game over the past four months.

Couple that with natural talent and Silverstein already sees comparisons to a former Trojan who also played on a USA Curtis Cup Team and now competes on the LPGA Tour: Annie Park.

“There are so many parallels between these two,” said Silverstein. “The way they treat people and interact are so similar it’s spooky. Sitting with Annie [during the LPGA Tour’s Palos Verdes Championship in May], she learned so much from being in school, that she didn’t have to be a golfer all the time. I hope Amari learns … having balance [in your life] is OK. Sometimes it helps your golf game.”

Avery already has inked a Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deal with Bank of America, appearing in a spot that has aired during golf telecasts. She also has signed with Nike. These opportunities could have a profound effect on when she turns pro.

A unique ethnic background doesn’t hurt either. When Avery tees it up at Merion, she will be just the second Black golfer to compete in the Curtis Cup Match, following current LPGA Tour pro Mariah Stackhouse (2014). Tiger Woods (1995) and Cameron Champ (2017) played in the Walker Cup. In fact, Avery won the 2021 Mack Champ Invitational, an event named for Cameron’s late grandfather who got him started in the game.

Such social significance is not lost on Avery. She realizes that playing in events like the Curtis Cup can only raise the profile for future minority golfers.

“Golf is starting to open up more,” said Avery. “It’s starting to become more diverse and inclusive, which is good to see.”

Avery’s eyes have been opened in a variety of ways over the past six months. Enrolling at USC has brought a balance between golf, school and social life, and her game has taken a giant leap forward.

Professional golf will be there when she decides to make the jump. For now, she wants to enjoy being part of a team, whether at USC or the Curtis Cup.

“I have to say,” she admitted, “I am having the time of my life.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at