Alicia Wang’s story about becoming a high school athlete is an inspirational one.
She was cut from the team as a freshman. She returned a year later, earning a spot as an alternate.
Then, as a junior, she became a key contributor.
What makes it even better is that Wang is a girl playing on a “boys” team, the Andover High golf team.
Technically speaking, it’s not a boys team. But girls golf isn’t an interscholastic sport in most Massaschusetts and New Hampshire high schools, because of numbers. There just aren’t enough girls playing.
But Wang is part of a growing number of girls playing varsity high school golf on predominantly boys teams. And playing well.
Golf is intimidating. Golf with the boys?
Well, not for several area girls -- Wang, Pentucket Regional’s Ava Spencer and Olivia Sheehan, Triton Regional’s Caitlin White, Amesbury’s Allison Berg, Haverhill’s Mackenzie Murphy, Timberlane’s Arianna Boniface and Methuen’s Grace McKinnon -- all playing high school golf dominated by boys. In fact, it’s been a fact of life for all of them on the golf course.
“Many girls who I’ve talked to would rather play on an all-girls golf team or have even quit before they reach high school because they were afraid or intimidated playing with the guys,” said Haverhill High junior Mackenzie Murphy, 16. “But I honestly love it. I have grown up playing golf with guys; all my cousins and brothers; and that definitely improved my golf game.”
As for their start in golf, most of them started young with a father or brother by their side.
Mackenzie is a descendant of the Murphy clan from Haverhill, whose family owns Garrison Golf Center and Bradford Country Club. Her grandfather, Ted Murphy, is one of the most respected golf pros in New England. Ava’s dad, Marc Spencer, is one of the top best amateurs this area ever developed, playing golf at the University of Georgia before becoming a noted teaching pro.
Grace said she’s got pictures of her swinging a club while in diapers.
Getting from the Garrison driving range -- Arianna and her brother also got their starts there -- to the high school golf team, competing with boys, takes more than practice.
“I have had girls on my team going back seven years when Krystal Knight played number one for me,” said Pentucket coach Jayne Beaton. “She has since graduated from Merrimack College, where she excelled on their women’s golf team. That’s great for us. Last year we had four girls playing; this year just two. My number one player is Ava and Olivia plays at number seven or eight. And she is also a co-captain.
“The girls who perform best are those who are very focused,” said Beaton. “Those who don’t let playing on a primarily boys team distract them.”
Haverhill High coach Kevin Murphy said he sees a lot of girls playing golf in the early years, but as they get closer to high school age the opportunities seem fewer and playing with or against boys is not preferred.
“Mackenzie has been lucky to have great friends on the team and also plays a lot of golf with Ari Boniface and Ava Spencer,” said Murphy.
“They’ve been playing with boys at a young age, so they aren’t intimidated. It’s too bad. There are a lot of opportunities out there for girls to play golf after high school.”
While Ava, for one, loves competing and even beating the boys, she understands the dilemma.
“It is a shame because I see it as any woman can go out and play a round just as easily as a man,” said Ava.
“Whether a female player is just starting out or has been playing for years, they should not be intimidated to go out and do something they love.”
FUTURE IN GOLF
Most of the girls want to play golf in college on girls teams. A few, including MacKenzie and Ava, would like to even take it a step further.
But the end game is to play this game for the rest of their lives.
“My grandfather, Ted Murphy, the greatest man I know, always says that golf is the game of a lifetime,” said Mackenzie. “He grew up playing golf, working on courses, then going to college and eventually becoming a greens superintendent, and then decided to get fully into the golf business and fulfill his dream of buying a golf course.
He is a prime example of living the game.”
Arianna hasn’t decided about playing in college, but she knows she will play golf a long, long time.
For now, though, competing is what makes this game so much fun at the high school level, especially against the boys.
Ava’s fondest memory of golf wasn’t just playing at the Pinehurst Course No. 8 last April, but it was playing her best.
“It was so much fun playing there with my dad,” said Ava. “But the best part was that I beat my father on the back nine by a stroke.”
With the high school tournaments up on the schedule next, all of the girls, including three seniors, said they have no complaints about the way they’ve been treated by the boys.
“Being on the boys team is like having a bunch of brothers,” said Grace, who wants to attend one of the 19 accredited colleges that offer a major in Professional Golf Management. “They are always there for me to make me smile if I’m having an off day. Or if I’m having a bad round they know how to boost my mood and don’t let me get down on myself. They’ve always had my back, no matter what.”