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Golfer, 14, Has Eyes on the Pro Tour : Childs' Play Takes a Serious Turn

August 11, 1988|SAM FARMER

There is a commercial for golf balls making the rounds in which an older threesome is asked if they need a fourth. The group grudgingly agrees. The teen-ager, wearing Bermuda shorts, baggy socks and a baseball cap, surprises the skeptics by walloping a 280-yard drive down the middle of the fairway.

It's Clarissa Childs' favorite commercial.

Childs, 14, knows how it feels to be underestimated. Although she's young and small, she's a 12-handicap and often shoots in the low 80s.

After one post-tournament clinic, Lee Trevino chose her from a large group of youngsters and presented her with a trophy.

"The reason he picked me is because I'm shorter than he is," said Childs, who stands 5 feet, 3 inches. "See, it pays to be short."

But at her home course, Chevy Chase Country Club, Childs' size and age doesn't fool anyone. In fact, many older club members request that she analyze and critique their stoke.

And Childs, who lives in Glendale, doesn't mind sharing the wealth of golf knowledge that she has accumulated over the past seven years. She even helps her father, Larry Childs, with his game--and he was playing three days a week long before she was born.

"She has to give me 10 strokes when we play," he adds.

Clarissa Childs plays in a Southern California Junior Golf Assn. tournament almost daily during the summer, and a crowded trophy case indicates her efforts have been rewarded. But her biggest win came in last month's Optimist Junior World tournament, where she placed fifth in the girls' 13-14 age group. The tournament was played at Balboa Park Golf Club in San Diego and included 750 golfers from 27 countries.

"At first I didn't think I'd do that well," Childs said. She was not initially invited, but she sent tournament representatives a written application nonetheless.

"I thought I'd make the cut but I didn't think I'd make the top five," she said.

Childs, who opened with an 80 on the par-70 course, was in second place after the first day. She stumbled, however, with an 86 the second day.

"(The second day) was kind of depressing," she said. "I was two over going into the ninth hole--a par three. My drive wound up in the sand trap and it took me three to get out. I ended up with a six."

She closed with a final-round 82.

Kevin Norwall, the assistant pro at Chevy Chase, credits Childs' ability to rebound after a rough outing to her maturity.

"Bad shots don't bother her," Norwall said . "Her temper just doesn't come through. She maintains her poise and hits the next one good."

Maybe Childs learned composure by watching her idol, Nancy Lopez, in televised matches. Once, while Lopez was practicing drives at Oakmont Country Club, she was spotted by Childs. The youngster approached the two-time Ladies Professional Golf Assn. champion, but lost her nerve to say hello. Childs' mother, Jean Childs, filled in for her star-struck daughter and told Lopez of the youngster's long standing admiration.

It is Lopez's consistency that Childs admires--a trait which Childs will have to develop in order to realize her goal of playing on the professional tour.

For now, however, fellow club members are more than satisfied with her progress.

"It's the first time they've ever had any good girl golfers come out of Chevy Chase," Jean Childs said . "She comes up with her trophies and it makes them happy."

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