Clinic Provides Fun, Window Into Elite Level of Game July 22, 2016 | Paramus, N.J. By Lisa D. Mickey

U.S. Girls' Junior Home

Twenty-five local youngsters had an opportunity to hit golf shots at The Ridgewood Country Club Friday during the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship.

Thanks to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf Program, girls ages 6-17 showed up for a clinic on the club’s practice facility that featured “Mia the Hippo” and “Larry the Shark” – giant inflatable animals with open jaws into which the kids chipped “Birdie Balls.”

“No matter how good you are, it’s still fun,” said clinic participant Meghna Mazundar, 13, a left-hander who has been playing golf for six years and holds a Handicap Index of 19. “It’s a lot more fun and it’s easier trying to hit into the mouths of the shark and the hippo than just hitting to all the flags on a driving range.”

Making golf fun is the whole idea, said Allie Bodemann, program coordinator for the LPGA Foundation, which organizes Girls Golf Clinics around the country.

“We want kids to think the game of golf is fun, so that’s why we bring all this fun equipment out here,” said Bodemann, a semifinalist in the 2006 U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Carmel Country Club in Charlotte, N.C., where she lost, 2 and 1, to eventual champion Jenny Shin.

“When you have a group of kids at a golf clinic for an hour and a half, you can tell them all you want about technique, grip and stance and they might absorb a little bit of it, but what you really want to do is make it fun, capture their attention and hopefully, inspire them to keep playing the game,” added Bodemann.

Five members of the LPGA’s Teaching and Club Professionals (T&CP) led instruction and activities for the children at three stations Friday at Ridgewood.

Some of the kids started the rotation at the putting station, which featured a giant tic-tac-toe putting game on the practice green.

The popular “Birdie Ball” station gave juniors the chance to hit special limited-flight balls off flat launch pads into the mouths of the inflatable animals.

At the chipping station, youngsters received instruction on how to hold the club while chipping. They hit shots off artificial turf toward targets downhill from the tee.

Twin 8-year-old sisters Grayson and Morgan White showed up to learn more about golf, although both have some experience in the game.

“We went to the different stations and I got to try to putt into the squares and chip down the hill,” said Grayson.

“This makes it easier to play golf and it’s more fun than usual,” said Morgan. “I learned how to make a Y-shape with my arms to hit chip shots.”

According to the LPGA website, LPGA-USGA Girls Golf is the “only national junior golf program that specializes in providing girl-friendly environments for juniors to learn the game of golf.”

Along with teaching fundamentals, the program is designed to instill such values as confidence and perseverance.

There are currently 300 Girls Golf program sites throughout the nation. The program promotes playing golf to help build active, healthy lifestyles for a lifetime.

Girls Golf was founded in 1989 by LPGA teaching professional Sandy LaBauve of Phoenix, who was introduced to golf by her mother. Her mother added entertaining games and drills into her golf lessons, a philosophy which is a hallmark of the current program.

In addition to helping children learn some basics of the game, Bodemann and the instructors also accompanied the kids onto the Ridgewood course to watch Friday’s semifinal matches at the U.S. Girls’ Junior – a championship that Bodemann played three times.

“The U.S. Girls’ Junior is basically the U.S. Women’s Open for girls,” said Bodemann, who played college golf at Wake Forest from 2007-2011.

“I remember when I played in it, I felt like a tour player,” she added. “The USGA and the club staff always treat players so well – from the setup in the locker room, to the dinners, to being on course with a referee who follows your match, to TV cameras that follow you – it’s just a five-star experience, so we want these girls to see that.”

Bodemann noted that some of the championship competitors aren’t that much older than some of the clinic participants.

“It can be really eye-opening for them to see girls their age competing in the championship and doing things that are really cool,” Bodemann said. “We want them to think, ‘Maybe if I practice, I can also be in a national championship some day.’”

One local junior, Joyce Chen, brought her own clubs to the clinic and said she wanted to compare herself to others to see where she is in her game. Chen plays frequent “early-bird golf” with her dad at a local course at 7:30 a.m.

“I came here today to see if I could learn something and to improve,” said Chen, 12. “I didn’t hit a ball down the hippo’s mouth, but I still had fun.”

More from the 68th U.S. Girls' Junior