Spend just 10 minutes with Susquehannock junior Kendel Abrams and you'll quickly understand what the game of golf truly means to her.
Abrams is a student of the game, not just a player of it. She looks for any sort of connection from the game's past to relate to her own life. She also knows that it's her duty, not just as a 16-year-old girl, but also an African-American, to help promote the sport to those from her own background.
It's a sport that's helped her travel around the country and compete against players from all over the world.
Now, she's just hoping that she can give a little back to it for everything that it's done for her.
Getting started: Abrams was first introduced to the game of golf back when she was around 9 years old.
Originally, her parents wanted to get her brother involved in the sport, Abrams tagged along for lessons one Saturday, but only for another incentive.
"I just came along to join one day," Abrams said. "I actually liked the idea of playing golf and then eating afterwards, so that was my little incentive when I was younger."
Soon, however, her post-practice meals became secondary to her new-found love for the sport.
Still, it always took a backseat to either soccer or basketball, two sports she also played during her childhood. When she played in her first golf tournament, however, the passion grew and, by the time she entered middle school, she realized that golf was a passion that she just couldn't shake.
Ironically, the same aspects of golf that frustrate most players to no end — the inconsistent play, the unfavorable lies and unruly bounces — are the same things that Abrams admires about the sport.
"I like the challenge of it," she said. "It's a funny game. I'm always laughing during my rounds. Whenever you hit a bad shot or a good shot, it's just funny to see how the ball reacts to it."
Going places: By the age of 13, Abrams' talents in the sport were noticeable.
She qualified for the Callaway Junior World Golf Championships (now known as the IMG Academy Junior World Golf Championships) in San Diego, California. It was her first experience playing against other golfers her age from around the world, and it most likely won't be her last, either.
Abrams is also a member of the Greater Baltimore chapter of The First Tee, a program that aims to promote the game of golf to kids by teaching them the rules, integrity and respect. The program also requires members to take part in community service projects and offers special opportunities for those who take part, one of which is a chance to play in the Nature Valley First Tee Open at one of the world's top golf courses, Pebble Beach Golf Links.
After seeing her mentor in The First Tee get an opportunity to play in it a few years ago, Abrams made it her goal to try to earn an invitation into the event. This year, she knew she had a good chance to make it, but when the selections were broadcast on the Golf Channel, Abrams' name didn't appear. Fortunately for her, it was only a mistake that her name didn't appear on screen with the other players from the Northeast region and the Greater Baltimore chapter.
So, in mid-September, Abrams teed it up at Pebble Beach alongside nine-time PGA Tour champion Jay Haas, shooting 5-under par over the course of two rounds at Pebble Beach and Poppy Hills.
"I didn't actually meet Jay Haas until the day we were playing, so it was kind of an interesting experience meeting him on the driving range and then, like, 30 minutes later we were teeing off together," Abrams said. "...I really loved playing Pebble Beach. That was extremely fun and it was a dream too. Like, when you see it on TV, it's like, 'Wow, that is so beautiful,' and then when you get there, it's like, 'Oh my God, this is heaven.' It's literally golf's heaven."
Grasp Girls With Golf: Once Abrams began her freshman year at Susquehannock High School, she realized that once she turned 16, she would be too old for The Girls Golf Program of Baltimore.
However, she wanted to make an impact in the game, especially with helping young girls get involved in the sport, so she created her own program, "Grasp Girls With Golf."
She partnered with The First Tee of Greater Baltimore and The Girls Golf Program and together they created a youth program that gives young girls a reason to play golf. It was the first phase of Abrams helping to give back to the game that's made her childhood so enjoyable.
Aside from golf, members in the program also take part in activities outside of the sport, such as Abrams' favorite event, "Nightmare on the 18th Hole," a Halloween-themed event that takes place in late October where kids can show up and take part in golf activities, but can also carve pumpkins and other fun Halloween activities.
"It's just bringing girls together and really connecting them and seeing how golf can impact their lives," Abrams said. "A lot of girls, they don't see golf as a sport and, nonetheless, they do like playing sports. But, golf is like that in-between where it's not necessarily a hobby, but a lifetime activity that you can play whenever. ... You can never get bored of it. Even if you hit a bad shot, probably a couple holes later or the next round, you'll hit a good one that'll make you stay in the game."
Her future: Right now, Abrams is one of the best young golfers in the York-Adams League, boy or girl. She recently finished second in the girls' individual league championship and will compete in this weekend's District 3 3-A tournament.
On her Warrior team, she's arguably the team's best player, regularly finding herself as the team's No.1 player, competing against the other schools' top players who are, more often than not, boys.
Abrams, who is only a junior, has already been in contact with several college coaches about continuing her golfing career at the next level. Regardless of where she ends up, she'll continue to make her mark on the sport.
When asked who her golf idol is, her knowledge of the game came back into play, when she mentioned Renee Powell. Powell was the second African-American to ever play on the LPGA Tour, doing so from 1967-80, well before Abrams was even born. While Abrams did say that current top female player Lydia Ko is her modern-day role model, Abrams looks at golf as much more than just the game of 18 holes. As a minority in the sport, there's more to it for Abrams. She looks at Powell as someone who helped grow the game for African-American women and pave the way for Abrams.
Golf has given Abrams so many unique opportunities already in her life and, with her skill set, will continue to give her opportunities.
She's also hoping to be more than just a golfer. She wants to provide a way for more girls to pick up the game.
She's well on her way to being successful in that endeavor, as well.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org