It’s no surprise golf is an appealing sport for kids. Half the game involves literally whacking something with a club. 

Plus, the concept is easy enough to understand, even if not easy to master: Hit the ball into the hole, preferably in or under the number of shots suggested for an excellent golfer for that hole, and try not to land in water or the sand pits the course designer put in the way. 

And since golf is at its core an individual sport, golfers have more of a chance to stand out at a younger age than their peers in team sports, who tend to spend their underclassmen years in the shadows of older teammates. Few outstanding basketball or football players who make varsity as a freshman truly get a chance to shine. 

But in golf, some young players are clinching state titles as freshmen and pulling out one-shot victories even after a streak of bogeys. If I were placing bets on the next greats in golf, I’d be watching these standouts’ careers.

Xavier Perez, age 10, Evans, GA

The youngest player on this list is also the one drawing comparisons to the greatest golfer of a generation. Xavier Perez bucked expectations he wouldn’t live after his premature birth at 20 weeks. He reportedly started playing golf at 18 months. That’s before most kids even start forming long-term memories. (I literally started walking at 18 months.

Coached by former professional golfer Chip Deason, “Xeve” joined the U.S. Kids Tour at age 5 and now at 10 competes in a 12to14 age group in his native Georgia. And It’s clear who he idolizes: Deason has compared his protege’s work ethic to that of Tiger Woods’ and Perez was featured on Today wearing the signature black pants and red shirt of the three-time Grand Slam winner.

Karson Grigsby, Class of 2022, Abilene, TX

Now a junior at Cooper High School, Karson Grigsby told the Abilene Reporter-News in May that not having a chance to win a district title four years in a row was a major disappointment of COVID-19’s evisceration of the spring golf season. 

He won his district’s 4-5A title as a freshman by eight strokes and tied for 22nd in Texas’ state tournament. Before the pandemic, Grigsby was the first freshman from his high school to compete in the state contest since 2010 and, should he reach the lofty goal of winning, would be the second student to do so a distinction held by Bob Estes, who now hosts the AJGA’s Folds of Honor Junior Championship.

Ryann Honea, Class of 2022, San Angelo, TX

The San Angelo Central High School student has ambitious goals for her junior year to make up for a sophomore season derailed by COVID-19: She wants to win her district and regional titles individually, and add a district win as a team on top of that. 

Honea has already started the school year strong by winning Grand Prairie’s North Texas Classic in September as a co-champion with a close friend, MacKenzie Moore. Honea told Go San Angelo after the tournament she plans to decide this year where to go to college. I found that refreshing, considering we live in a world where student-athletes are expected to know what school they want to play for seemingly before their preschool graduation.

Nathalie Benrey, Class of 2022, Atherton, CA

Nathalie Benrey overcame a rocky start to her high school career her freshman year with a season-ending injury and a disqualification from the Menlo-Atherton Sixth Man Club’s season-opening tournament for using a cellphone during her round. I mean, I can relate I was in high school in the mid-2000s and had my phone taken away more than a few times during class. 

Benrey scored an 18th-hole par to secure a one-shot win at the Peninsula Athletic League girls’ golf championship in October 2019. She beat Viveka Kurup, the competition’s winner two years in a row and a close friend of Benrey. But she told The San Mateo Daily Journal one moment she treasures most in her high school career is a birdie she made playing at Sharon Heights Country Club after getting her tee shot onto the green, since Benrey is better known for her chip and putt skills.

Ben Sluzas, Class of 2021, Lockport, IL

Ben Sluzas knows it ain’t over till it’s over, showing Yogi Berra’s brain-scrambling idioms do come in handy. The now-senior limped to a 2019 win at the IHSA Class 3A championship, his second state title in a row. Sluzas bogeyed the sixth, seventh and eighth holes in the competition’s final nine. But he eventually scraped a 69, three under par for a one-shot win. 

He told The Herald-News he could give himself a shot (See what he did there?) with each hole.

Hunter Thomson, Class of 2021, Calgary, AB

Hunter Thomson — no relation to the Gonzo version — hails from north of the border, but he’s committed to the Michigan Wolverines for his freshman year in 2021. 

In July he won the boys’ Alberta U19 Golf Championships by eight strokes, with nine birdies in the first round. But this summer’s win wasn’t his first provincial title he claimed a win at the 2017 Alberta Bantam Golf Championship at age 13. You read that right: 13.

Annabelle Ackroyd, Class of 2019, Calgary, AB

The new sophomore at the University of Minnesota minted her spot in the history of the same Alberta championship’s history this summer. With a six-shot victory margin and seven straight first-round birdies, she became the first girl since the 1980s to win Alberta’s title three years in a row. 

She told the Calgary Sun that losing the competition by one shot in 2017 motivated her to win at least once. 

These kids definitely have far more golf prowess than me, given that sports requiring hand-eye coordination are out of the question since I can’t walk across an empty, flat surface without finding something to trip over. They have bright futures despite the pandemic’s interruption of the 2019-2020 school year’s season. When sports seasons return to something resembling normal operations, you’ll want to have these kids on your radar.

Julia Cardi

Julia Cardi is a journalist based in Denver. She cherishes watching golf as a way to spend time with her father, but she’s still salty about that time he played badly on purpose in a father-daughter mini-golf tournament because he didn’t want to embarrass their opponent team and then they came in last place. Cardi will join the Denver Gazette at the beginning of October as a general assignment reporter. She has written for Law Week Colorado since 2017.