A new generation of talented junior women golfers are making their mark on Delaware courses and raising eyebrows on the national level. All were once little girls tagging along with their parents or siblings at local golf courses, plastic clubs in tow. Now they’re accomplished high school athletes with bright futures and Division 1 collegiate coaches doing the “Delaware Dash” to their doors.
Here are six to watch:
Phoebe Brinker is a junior at Archmere Academy.//photo courtesy of the Delaware State Golf Association
This Archmere Academy junior won the 2017 Delaware Women’s Amateur and became the first girl to win the Delaware State High School Championship in 2016, and repeated history again in 2018, in an event that features a combined field of boys and girls.
Brinker also qualified for the U.S. Girl’s Junior this past year and won an AJGA event. She has committed to play golf for Duke University.
Brinker’s secret weapon may be her golf coach and aunt, Suzy Whaley, who just happens to be a former LPGA tour player and one of the best golf instructors in the game. Whaley holds a day job as the first female president of the PGA.
A Tower Hill School junior, Cleary has committed to the University of Virginia. She teamed with Brinker and Charter of Wilmington junior Esther Park to set the USGA Women’s State Team Championship record in 2017 by shooting a five-under, 67. Cleary blazed the way for the trio, who placed second overall in the national event championship, the Delaware team’s best finish ever.
Just last year, Cleary shot a 4-under, 140 for 36 holes to win the Philadelphia Girls Junior PGA Championship. She also qualified for the 43rd Girls Junior PGA Championship in Kentucky.
Christina Carroll is a William Penn High School junior.//photo courtesy of the Delaware State Golf Association
The William Penn High School junior has been the top player for its golf team since her freshman year. In 2018, she placed second at the Delaware Women’s Golf Association amateur championship. She was also honored last year as the Philadelphia Section PGA Junior Girls Division Player of the Year (ages 16-18).
Hayley Quickel is a junior at Padua Academy.//photo courtesy of the Delaware State Golf Association
A junior at Padua Academy, Quickel has scored well in events on the AJGA tour and the Peggy Kirk Bell tour, where she recently won with a final round of 68. She also qualified for the DIAA State Tournament as both a freshman and sophomore. She placed third in the tournament her sophomore year. Quickel has committed to James Madison University.
A sophomore at Tower Hill School, Heflin won the 2018 AJGA Philadelphia Junior at Huntington Valley, making a 12-foot putt to seal the deal. She also finished fourth in the state championship finals last year with teammate Jennifer Cleary, helping Tower Hill to its third straight team state title. Heflin placed seventh at the 2018 Philadelphia Girls Junior PGA Championship as a freshman.
Olivia Schwandt is a sophomore at Tower Hill School.//photo courtesy of the Delaware State Golf Association
Another Tower Hill School sophomore, Schwandt played in the HJGT (Hurricane Junior Golf Tour) National Championship and finished third in a Philadelphia Junior Tour event in 2017. Since tearing her ACL playing volleyball, she’s been slowly rebuilding her game after missing two seasons. “When I came back, it wasn’t easy, because I’d lost my swing,” says Schwandt. “I’ve worked hard to rehabilitate my knee and get my game back. This past month, I’ve had some of the best tournament rounds of my career.”
Laura Heien, operations manager for the Delaware State Golf Association, says the tremendous growth in junior golf in this region and elsewhere is due to a number of factors converging. Primary among them: an increase in both the cool factor of the game and the number of great opportunities for younger players. “The parents of today’s juniors are most likely in an age group that saw the Tiger Woods effect, changing their perceptions of golf relative to other youth sports. Expanded LPGA television coverage gives junior girls role models to watch, then emulate on the course,” says Heien. “And the quality and quantity of junior programming in the region is continuing to grow and improve for both beginners and elite competitors.”
Many of the girls credit organizations like the First Tee of Delaware for providing support to help them grow their game. “The First Tee gave me my start golfing,” says Carroll. “I give special thanks to my mentors Charma Bell, Karen Hart, Becky Dengler, and Bill and Kim Allen. They didn’t just teach me how to become a better golfer, but also a better person.”
The Delaware chapter was recently honored as the First Tee’s first recipient of the “Growing the Game for Girls Golf” award, besting 150 chapters nationwide. In 2018, the First Tee sent Carroll and Quickel to play in the 2018 PURE Insurance Championship, an official PGA Tour Champions event played in California at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills. In the nationally televised event, each girl was paired with a PGA Champions Tour player. “My greatest golf moment was when I made an eagle on the 18th hole at Poppy Hills,” Carroll gushes. “It was also nice to get a fist pump from Bernhard Langer after I made the putt.”
Quickel treasures “playing the 18th hole at Pebble Beach along with Steve Pate, and finishing the round in front of a crowd and television cameras.”
“They both realized they are capable of competing against anyone nationally,” says Bob Norris, executive director at the First Tee of Wilmington. “It has been huge for their inner confidence.”
As the golf coach at Tower Hill School, Kathy Franklin has had plenty of time to reflect on the collective success of junior golf in the state. “We’re seeing many high school girls in Delaware who are exceptionally good golfers,” she says. “They work hard at it, and they deserve every accolade they receive.”
To learn more, visit dsga.org.