Stone's been turning heads for years
There are phenoms. There are prodigies. And then there is Latanna Stone.
Her star started to shine some eight or nine years ago, when Latanna asked if she could pick up a golf club her father, Michael, was swinging.
The club was too big for her, so her dad fashioned a sawed-off broomstick as a substitute.
“She got through the ball (with a) really decent swing,” Michael Stone remembered. Latanna was 2 years old at the time.
Now, the 10-year-old fifth-grader from Brandon, Fla., has more than 100 victories. Her most recent win made history — she became the youngest competitor to qualify for the US Women’s Amateur, beating the previous record by two years when she shot a 70 in a July 13 qualifier. The score equaled her career-best round.
“I just love the game,” Latanna told The Daily. “I just love winning and being excited about it.”
Nick Fallon, tournament director for the Florida State Golf Association, knows she’s a rare talent.
“Her golf swing is technically very sound,” he said. “It’s miles above most players you’ll see up there. She generates a decent amount of power for a girl her age and her size, but she hits it dead straight and is very consistent.”
When Latanna was 9 years old, her father called the FSGA and asked if she could play on the association’s junior tour, where the youngest division is for 13 to 15-year-olds. He compiled a resume of her tournament results and persuaded the FSGA to let her play.
Latanna, who will turn 11 in September, more than proved she belonged.
In 14 of the division tournaments, her worst finish was a tie for 11th in 2010. She won twice this year and finished in the top three seven times in the past three years.
She’s currently ranked second in the division, 22 points behind the leader, who is three school grades ahead of her.
“I’m not an avid golfer, to be honest with you,” Michael Stone said. “I could take it or leave it. I’ve always told her, ‘Any time you feel like you never want to swing a club again, it’s fine with me. As long as you keep swinging it, I’ll keep supporting you.’ ”
But the preteen prodigy is dealing with the pressure — and media attention — that comes along with her incredible achievements. At the moment, though, she’s a little nervous about playing in the Women’s Amateur Aug. 6 to 12 in Cleveland.
“I’m excited to play with older women and college girls and I just want to get experience,” she said.
The question — as it was for Michelle Wie, who qualified for the 2000 Women’s Amateur Public Links at age 10 — is whether this early fame will eventually backfire. But Latanna motivates herself, said former coach Charlotta Sorenstam.
“It comes from her,” said Sorenstam, whose sister is women’s golf legend Annika Sorenstam. “And that’s the key to this long term — that it comes from the child or kid herself.”
Latanna’s father agreed.
“There’s never been any pressure from us, we don’t care one way or the other,” he said. “She knows she has this talent and likes the competition golf brings.”
For every story of young golfers breaking down because of the immense burden on them, there are those who have thrived. Both Sorenstam and Fallon cited 17-year-old Lexi Thompson, who qualified for the US Women’s Open at 12 and became the youngest winner in the histories of the LPGA and Ladies European tours with victories at the Navistar LPGA Classic and the Dubai Ladies Masters in 2011.
“(Latanna) has the drive within her — it’s hard to say at this age if that’s enough. You have to have the complete package nowadays,” Sorenstam said. “If she keeps that drive and the passion for the game . . . there’s no stopping her.”