By Beth Ann Baldry, Golfweek
SEBRING, Fla. – Latanna Stone sat down in the Harder Hall clubhouse after an exceptionally long opening day and made a simple request.
“Daddy, I want something to drink,” she said.
Then Latanna opened up her new black Coach wristlet and pulled out a folded $50.
“You buyin’?” her dad, Michael, asked.
Odds are that money came from Santa Claus, or some other generous spirit. Stone, after all, is only 11 and hardly aware of how fast $50 disappears these days. She’s anxious to get a new MacBook Pro, already tired of the iPad that won’t play her DVDs. Michael Stone said the new computer might come when she starts virtual school. Mom has homeschooled Latanna at the kitchen table the last four years.
Stone doesn’t come across as spoiled, just a typical 11 year old, hot after the latest gadgets and big-kid toys. What makes her atypical, however, is her golf game.
Last summer Stone became the youngest player to ever qualify for the U.S. Women’s Amateur at 10. Michael signed her up for the experience and got cotton-mouth when he began to realize that she might actually qualify for the championship in Cleveland. The Stone family plans her tournament schedule largely based on location. This year’s Amateur in Charleston, S.C., is a relatively easy commute from their home in Valrico, Fla.
It’s sometimes startling to see how much kids grow and mature in a relatively short amount of time. Stone is now 5-foot-5, around 2 1/2 inches taller than she was last summer. Her face looks older, and with the Harder Hall doing away with caddies this year, she looked more in control of her game alongside college players nearly twice her age.
At the Dixie Amateur earlier this week, Stone shot 77-81-67-68 to finish tied for 16th. Those last two rounds are the best back-to-back scores she has ever posted. Her goal was to simply make the cut.
At the Harder Hall Invitational on Thursday, Stone posted an even-par 72 and is six strokes back of Mika Liu, a petite 13-year-old who paced the field after a nearly three-hour morning fog delay. Stone’s goal this year at the Harder Hall is to qualify for the championship flight. A top-10 finish, however, wouldn’t be at all surprising.
Stone has so many trophies to her name that both she and her father have lost track. After dominating the Florida Junior Tour’s 13-15 division, Stone moved up to the 16-18 age bracket this fall and won in her second appearance.
Michael said there’s a 50/50 chance his daughter will receive a sponsor exemption into the LPGA event in Thailand February 21-24. There are 10 exemptions available for the limited field and Stone is being considered because her mother is Thai.
While discussing the upcoming junior events on her schedule in the next two months, an exasperated Stone said “Why do I have to go all the way to Tallahassee?” If only the middle schooler could comprehend the distance from where she sat in Sebring, Fla., to Pattaya, Thailand. She’d need 10 DVDs to hold her attention.
Given the monster year Stone enjoyed in 2012, what’s next?
Michael offered up the U.S. Girls’ Junior.
“U.S. Girls’? Stone asked rhetorically. “Forget that.”
Bring on the U.S. Women’s Open.