Golf is fair way to teach about life, too, Mann finds

April 30, 2006|By MILTON KENT

In the beginning, Carol Mann's interest in golf was to be more closely connected to her father. Then, the game's hold manifested itself in colors and sounds and the taste of crabapples around the local course.

Now that her days on the LPGA Tour are over, Mann finds that golf affords her a chance to bring more young women to the fairways, the greens and the sand traps, where they can learn to appreciate their successes and learn from their failures.

"The dream that we all have as human beings, if we learn to have one, can be achieved," Mann said. "That's the biggest message. Whatever you dream, you can achieve, but you have to really work hard and you have to give up things. There is sacrifice involved, but you don't call it a sacrifice, because you want to get this other thing."

What that other thing is is largely up to the individual, but golf can be the vehicle to get there, and Mann should know. Inducted into the LPGA Hall of Fame in 1977 and eventually the World Golf Hall of Fame, Mann is 11th on the all-time LPGA victories list with 40 tour wins, including the 1965 U.S. Women's Open.

Mann, who is assisting Towson University in starting up a women's golf program, is talking up the game to kids, as she did Friday at Diamond Ridge in Windsor Mill in a clinic to prospective female golfers in the Baltimore County school system.

Mann said she began playing the game at 9, but admittedly was "terrible, by the way, when I started. Most kids are. It's hard to get the ball in the air, it's hard to control it. You can't hit it very far, so the golf course looks so long and intimidating. But it didn't matter because it was so joyful for me."

Eventually, her skill caught up to her passion and Mann, now 65, won a junior national tournament when she was 17 and joined the LPGA Tour at 19. Even as badly as she played in the early days, Mann said, she could never have gotten better without competing at a young age, something she recommends for today's prospective golfers.

"I got to learn how bad I really was compared to my peers," Mann said. "That creates incentive to work harder. It's a very high-maintenance game, unfortunately. But there are a lot of good programs for kids to be able to take lessons for not very much money or even for free.

"Sport is a great metaphor for life. Competition is where you examine your skills under the microscope. So I encourage young people to compete, not just be in a vacuum and practice, but to compete. I encourage young people to get out there in the competitive arena, because it's the greatest learning laboratory.'

Still, for all the positives of playing competitively at a young age, there are cautionary tales. Mann was witness to one of them, that of Beverly Klass, who turned professional at 10 years old in 1967 and played in four tournaments, including the U.S. Open that year.

Klass, who now is a part-time golf instructor in Florida, told the Los Angeles Times last fall that her father struck her with a belt and cursed at her for failing to practice or for a bad shot. The LPGA subsequently barred players from turning pro until they turned 18.

Mann says Klass "was deprived of very important maturation time," a situation that isn't the case for a new crop of talented young players, namely Morgan Pressel, who qualified for the U.S. Open at the age of 12; Paula Creamer, who won her first tour event four days before graduating from high school; and Michelle Wie, who played in PGA and LPGA tour events before she turned 16.

Mann said she isn't concerned about whether that trio is up to the emotional rigors of the tour, because they are special.

"These three young gals are phenoms," Mann said. "It's rare. Is it going to happen more and more? Maybe, because of the stimulation, but they are exceptional athletes. Now, are they exceptional in their maturation as human beings? How could they be yet? Hopefully, they'll have support to get that part to grow, too."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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