by Beth Ann Baldry
SEBRING, Florida (January 5, 2011) -- Generally speaking, I'm fairly well-versed in a player's background before going out to watch her play. When it came to 9-year-old Latanna Stone, however, I didn't do much research. How much history can a fourth-grader really have?
"Did you know she has won over 100 tournaments?" asked Charlotta Sorenstam, Stone's swing coach.
It was then that I plugged her name into a Google search and discovered www.latannastone.com stocked with photos, video, a newsletter and her schedule. In short, her website is more impressive than that of the average LPGA player.
The Harder Hall marks Stone's first national amateur competition, and she's loving it.
"I was freaked-out nervous," said Stone, her eyes dancing behind her cute little glasses. The youngest player to qualify for the championship division, Stone opened with an 84. She and her father/caddie, Michael, set their standards a little lower this week, realizing that victory probably was out of the question.
"I wanted to be part of the big girls," said Stone, who mimics the on-course mannerisms of girls twice her age and handles an interview as naturally as she swings a club. And just how did Stone find the "big girls?"
"They’re funny; they’re confident; they don’t talk a lot; and one lady, she said something bad," Stone said with a laugh.
Stone, who has been playing golf since age 2, came to Sorenstam with a wicked reverse "C" that they’ve worked hard to correct. Knowing she couldn't hit all the greens from the championship tees, they concentrated on her wedge game. Stone's playing partner, a math professor and high school golf coach, was impressed.
"She’s really refined for a 9-year-old," said Jan Bowers of Lincoln, Ill., who shot 80.
Stone works with another retired LPGA player, Vicki Goetze-Ackerman, on her short game.
From the beginning, Stone has told Sorenstam of her desire to be No. 1 in the world. Her favorite pros are Tiger Woods and Cristie Kerr, whom Stone describes as "confident and self-controlled." Her heroes change frequently.
"Some kids will say that and don't really know what they're talking about," Sorenstam said of being No. 1. "She does."
Michael Stone said his daughter practices 4-5 days a week. She's homeschooled, which explains her ability to play in so many events. Stone said she heard about Harder Hall from friend Kendall Griffin, an 11-year-old who is playing in Sebring for the second time.
"We wanted to know how the girls act here," Stone said.
Stone’s Thai mother, Yuen, followed her around with a video camera, capturing every moment of Round 1. The family’s home-movie collection surely sets some kind of record, if that's her usual tournament duty.
Bowers praised Michael’s on-course rapport with his daughter, and Sorenstam said the family's drive comes from a good place.
"The bottom line is, it's her wanting to do this," Sorenstam said.
U.S. Women’s Open qualifying can’t be far behind.