Standard Bearer to Player: Yermish Inspired by USGA Experience July 16, 2018 | Pebble Beach, Calif By David Shefter, USGA

Sydney Yermish, 12, qualified for the 70th U.S. Girls' Junior less than 24 months after becoming serious about the game. (USGA/JD Cuban)

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For the first 10 years of her life, Sydney Yermish’s idea of playing golf meant riding around – or occasionally driving – the golf cart with her parents and perhaps hitting a few shots for fun.

When she was 3 years old, Bob and Dana Yermish purchased a plastic club for their only child, but that resulted in Sydney hitting the family dog more than a ball. Young Sydney was even given a formal lesson on how to properly grip a club, but her interest in the game waned.

Then the 116th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship came to Rolling Green Golf Club in Springfield, Pa., where Dana was the co-general chair and Bob served on the executive committee. Sydney, then 10, briefly volunteered as a standard bearer, but found it too heavy of a burden to hold for 18 holes. Instead, she mingled with competitors and immediately befriended Emma Bradley, 2015 U.S. Women’s Amateur runner-up Sierra Brooks and Virginia Elena Carta, who would go on to finish runner-up at Rolling Green.

Yermish was immediately smitten. Watching and mingling with the game’s elite female amateurs had ignited a passion. The Wynnewood, Pa., resident wanted to become a competitive golfer, and discovered a natural talent that hadn’t existed with her previous sporting ventures.

“It was a mix of everything,” she said. “I played soccer and basketball and wasn’t good at anything. I had talent to play golf. Everything just clicked.”

Two years later, Yermish is competing in her first USGA championship: the 70th U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach, Calif. So the question begs to be asked: How did this remarkable transformation happen so quickly?

Practice. A lot of it. Days after the 2015 Women’s Amateur concluded, Yermish began her journey to competitive golf and has not looked back.

Things got off to a rocky start. In her first tournament on a 3,000-yard course, she shot a 53 over nine holes. She felt embarrassed for her fellow competitors that they had to witness the futility. But within a few months, the nine-hole scores quickly dropped from the 50s to the 30s. Ten months later, she won her first tournament, the 10-11 girls’ division of the U.S. Kids Golf-sponsored Pennsylvania State Invitational at Seven Springs Mountain Resort.

Since then, the soon-to-be eighth-grader at Bala Cynwyd Middle School has amassed 15 other victories, including the Donald Ross Junior Invitational (Girls 10-12 Division) last December at Pinehurst Resort & Country Club’s Course No. 1. She has also played in a handful of Hurricane Junior Golf Tour and American Junior Golf Association events.

Earlier this summer, she beat her father, who owns a single-digit Handicap Index® (6.3), for the first time, and Dana said her Handicap Index has dropped to an 11.1 because of the amount of time playing and practicing with her daughter.

Sydney’s summers are now spent entirely on the golf course, whether at Rolling Green or at Pinehurst, where the family recently purchased a home and bought a membership. “I can play No. 2 for free,” Sydney beamed.

Needless to say, she’s worn out the driving range at both places.

“I have basically said [the course] is my babysitter,” said Yermish, who has been focused on improving her short game.

Once Yermish, who turns 13 next month, made the commitment to golf, her parents brought her to Mark Sheftic at Merion Golf Club for instruction. Yermish credits the three-time PGA Championship competitor for accelerating the learning curve.

“She has a passion for the game that you don’t find in a lot of people, especially at that age,” said Sheftic. “As a coach, you can only take a student so far. I tell Syd to do something and she’ll be on the golf course for seven hours trying to figure it out Passion, desire, you can’t put a price on it.”

That dedication paid off on June 21 when she carded a 74 at Old York Country Club in Chesterfield, N.J., to earn one of the four qualifying spots for this year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior. Mike Bednar Jr., a 17-year-old summer caddie at Rolling Green, was on the bag that day and the family brought him to Northern California for the Girls’ Junior.

“We told him if she makes it, we’ll take you,” said Dana Yermish

By far, the U.S. Girls’ Junior is the biggest competition in which Sydney has played. Two years ago, she got an outside-the-ropes education about the size and scope of a USGA championship. Players treated her like royalty. She still stays in contact with Bradley, a Floridian who qualified for the 2017 U.S. Women’s Open and has signed to play for the University of Mississippi this fall. Yermish followed Bradley at the recent North & South Women’s Amateur at Pinehurst, where she missed the match-play cut.

Every competitor Yermish came in contact with that week at Rolling Green offered the same words of encouragement.

“Keep going, you can do this. We were there at one point,” said Yermish.

Two years later, she has flipped the script. She’s now the competitor receiving the royal treatment. Seeing the gigantic scoreboard near the first tee, all of the USGA flags and signage, a personalized practice-range nameplate and the fun swag given to the competitors has brought back fond memories from Rolling Green.

In a way, it’s a bit surreal for Yermish. In less than two years she’s gone from awe-inspired spectator to championship competitor.

Being the field’s second-youngest competitor – behind 11-year-old Texan Avery Zweig – has tempered Yermish’s expectations for the week. She has Facetimed with Sheftic for extra encouragement and he’s told her to not to be intimidated, play her game and “see what happens.”

Just being one of the 64 golfers to reach match play would be a major accomplishment. She fully understands being one of the 156 players to qualify from a record 1,606 entrants was a huge hurdle in her golf development.

She’s competing against the best under-19 female golfers in front of some 80 college coaches all searching for the next great talent. Yermish might fall into that category. Wake Forest has already inquired about her attending its summer golf camp.

Yermish, meanwhile, is trying to remain level headed.

“I expect to have fun, to go out and enjoy every moment as it comes,” she said. “If I play well, that’s great. If I make match play, it’s even better. I just want to enjoy the entire experience, no matter how I do.”

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.