Should there be a minimum age for playing in golf tournaments?


Paul Chaplet was only ten years old when he first picked up a golf club, but six years later, he's on his way to Augusta to play in the 2016 Masters. 

Chaplet won the Latin American Amateur on Sunday, and will follow in the footsteps of last year's winner, Matias Dominguez, as he makes his first appearance in a major. "It's all you can dream of," says Chaplet. 

At 16, Chaplet is a veteran compared to the youngest golfers to have appeared in majors. Guan Tianlang was just 14 when he played in the 2013 Masters (making the cut), as was Young Tom Morris when he played in the 1865 Open. It didn't seem to do him much harm. But how young is too young?


When an 11-year-old Lucy Li won the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta, the world was delighted to see such an impressive and dedicated young girl displaying her talent while clearly enjoying herself. When she qualified for the US Women's Open two months later, however, not everyone was as pleased, with several high-profile figures saying she was too young to be mixing it with the world's top women.

What's the problem? 

"I'm not a big fan of it," said 30-year-old world No.1 Stacy Lewis, who finished second at Pinehurst. "If it was my kid, I wouldn't let her play in the US Open qualifier at 11. I don't like the trend of girls coming up younger and younger to the professional level. I just like to see kids learn how to win before they come and get beat up out here."

Did Li get "beat up"? 

Not in the slightest. First of all, Li wasn't given a special invitation for being young and small. She won her qualifying event – against adult professionals – by a whopping seven-shot margin. She didn't make the cut at Pinehurst, but her pair of 78s were no disgrace and saw her tied with former world No.1 Dame Laura Davies. 

If you're good enough, are you old enough?

Davies certainly thinks so. Speaking before the tournament, she said: "If you can play the golf and you can qualify, then have a go. What's the worst that can happen? She shoots a million this week and everyone says, 'Wasn't it great she was here?' I don't think anything bad can come out of it, because she's too young to worry about the pressure. She's having fun."

Former 'next big thing' Michelle Wie, who bagged her first major at Pinehurst, agrees: "I remember my first US Open. If I missed a green, I was like, 'Oh, this is still really cool'. IT's an incredible experience and I think the memory is priceless."

But is the pressure too much for kids so young? 

"I believe, from a clinical standpoint, it is too young," says Dr Jeffrey Gardere, an expert in mental health. "It's a lot of stress to play in the pro leagues like this, and it may be too much too soon."

Li, who spoke from a hastily-installed box to help her reach the microphone in the press tent, said: "I just want to go out there and have fun and play the best I can. I really don't care about the outcome. I want to learn from these great players."

"She has the right idea," says Gardere. "If it stays fun, it stays healthy."


What are the dangers?

Jim Furyk made his competitive debut aged 12, but is worried kids thrown into the deep end too young may risk burnout: "A couple of kids that I grew up with seemed to be every bit as good as me, and by the time I got to 17 years old, they didn't play golf anymore. They were done. Now that I'm a parent, I don't know what the hell I would do with a child that was that good at 11. Where would you direct them? That's what would scare me the most."

"People say a player that young should go have fun in something like this," says Scott Thompson, father of Lexi, who turned pro when she was 15 and became the youngest winner of an LPGA event a year later. "But if you told Lexi when she was 12 that we were going to the US Women's Open just to have fun, she would have laughed. She wanted to compete."

"It was pretty overwhelming," recalls Lexi, now 20, "but my experience at age 12 helped me out so much."

Our verdict

Golf isn't smoking, drinking, or driving – it's not going to kill you, so there's no need for a minimum age. We can't bemoan the lack of youngsters taking up the game and then say, "Sorry, not yet" when some of them do and prove pretty good at it. 

Provided they are not being forced into golf by pushy parents, and maintain a balanced life of education, golf and other activities, why shouldn't they be allowed to pursue the sport they love?

What do you think? Should young kids be protected from the pressure of top-level sport? Or, if they're good enough, are they old enough?