Whether a talented teenage golfer should stay in school or turn pro has been hotly debated in recent weeks after 17-year-old Kevin Na said that he was dropping out of high school to enter the PGA Tour's Q school and U.S. Girls' Junior champion Nicole Perrot, also 17, said she'd turn pro soon. Many people are outraged that these kids are going pro, but I'm not. Other pro sports are full of teenagers, so why not golf? Besides, how can the critics presume to make life decisions for people they don't know?
When I dropped out of the 10th grade in 1950 to join the LPGA at age 16, many of my parents' friends said Mom and Dad were nuts, but turning pro was the best decision we ever made. I was a straight-A student, and I knew what I wanted to do with my life-be a golfer—and that I would continue my education outside the classroom. My parents and I traveled around the country in a 22-foot Airstream trailer, and I spent my free time devouring books.
Society is obsessed with traditional guidelines, but tradition is for people who don't think for themselves or maximize their abilities. Talent shouldn't be squelched because of age. If a young golfer is mature and has a family that will support him, he should be allowed to go pro. Who says teenagers are too immature to cope with the rigors of tour life? I know lots of juvenile 40-year-olds.
The PGA Tour doesn't have an age requirement. The LPGA requires members to be 18 or older, but a girl 15 or older can petition the commissioner to waive that requirement, and he'll be asked to do so if the Wongluekiet twins, Aree and Naree, who are 15, turn pro. I met the Wongluekiets at this year's Nabisco Championship, and they were polite, poised and chaperoned by their parents. Their talent is otherworldly, so I see no reason for them to remain amateurs and put their games and earning potential on hold.
We'll see lots more kids going pro. Some will succeed and some will fail. That's not good or bad. It's a fact of life.