I've never met Aree and Naree Wongluekiet, the 13-year-old twins who last week accepted invitations to play in the LPGA's first major, the Nabisco Championship, but I know what they are going through. In 1967, when I was only nine, my dad made me turn pro and I became the youngest person ever to play in an LPGA tournament. I played in three regular events and the U.S. Open—my best finish was 44th and I earned $131—before the tour determined that kids like me didn't belong.
Like so many child prodigies, I had no balance in my life and no grip on my identity. I knew Beverly the golfer, but not Beverly the person. Mommy and Daddy loved me when I performed well, but when I did poorly, Daddy didn't like me, to the point of yelling abusively on the course and whipping me with a belt until my back bled.
Today I'm writing a book about my life, and I teach golf to lots of kids. I always tell their parents about what happened to me. It's not healthy to have a family's life revolve around a child's golf career because it pushes everything else into the background. If my two sisters wanted to go to the beach, they had to wait until I had practiced. Total immersion in golf also left me ill-prepared for adulthood. I'm Forrest Gump in reverse.
Nevertheless, I'm optimistic about Aree's and Naree's chances for success. Amazingly, their parents seem to have maintained balance in their children's lives while nurturing the girls' golf to the fullest. The kids are big and strong, and they're built for battle on the tour. My most important advice to them is this: No matter what happens on the course, remember that you're people first and golfers second.
Beverly Klass, 43, is the head teaching pro at Turtle Bay Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Fla.