Teen Golfer: Don't Compare Me To Tiger Mariah Stackhouse, 17, is the youngest African-American to qualify for a U.S. Women's Open, and was the only black qualifier in the 2011 tournament that ended in early July. She tells Michel Martin about how her golf career has grown.
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Teen Golfer: Don't Compare Me To Tiger

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Teen Golfer: Don't Compare Me To Tiger

Teen Golfer: Don't Compare Me To Tiger

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MICHEL MARTIN, host: I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

Coming up, Detroit's hard times are well known. Troubles in the auto industry, bare to the bone budgets, corruption scandals involving top city officials, but despite all that, it turns out that young professionals and creative types are moving back to the Motor City in numbers that matter. We'll tell you more about that in a few minutes.

But, first, if you follow sports, especially golf, you've probably heard of Rory McIlroy. He topped the world Amateur Golf rankings for a week at the tender age of 17. And then last month at the age of 22, he went on to become the youngest winner of the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923.

Well, there is another young golfer that we think you want to know about. And she could be the next Tiger Woods. We're talking about 17-year-old Mariah Stackhouse. She's competed in nearly 200 golf tournaments. She has won half of them and scored in the top 10 in nearly all of them.

She's also the youngest African-American to qualify for U.S. Women's Open that wrapped up earlier this month. And now she's swinging her clubs at the U.S. Girls Junior Amateur Championship in Chicago that finishes up this weekend.

We wanted to talk to her about how she's made it this far. So we caught up with her before she flew to the tournament. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us.

MARIAH STACKHOUSE: Oh, my pleasure.

MARTIN: So how did the golf bug bite you?

STACKHOUSE: I was a daddy's girl when I was little. And he used to go to the course some evenings and he would take me along with him. And about when I was two years old he cut down a set of clubs for me and I began to practice alongside him. And he never stopped taking me and I guess I developed a liking for the game and I kept practicing and here I am now.

MARTIN: What is it that you like about the sport?

STACKHOUSE: It's different than a lot of sports because I can converse with my competitors and compete at the same time. Whereas in sports like basketball or soccer it's action and you can't really get to know the people that you're playing with because there's no time for talking and getting to know someone. But when you're on the golf course you can be serious. But you can be relaxed at the same time and just kind of get to know the people that you're playing with. And I think it's great because it's an open sport. Anybody can play golf who really wants to.

MARTIN: How do you feel about some of the words that I just used to describe you, for example? First of all, the youngest to do this or that. The youngest African-American, the first African-American since this or that. How does all that strike you?

STACKHOUSE: When people, you know, have titles like that for me, it's just a way to show me that maybe what I'm doing is working and I'm improving and that's what people see me as. But I don't see myself as those things.

MARTIN: The next Tiger Woods or the next possible Tiger Woods comparison, is that a burden or is that kind of fun or how does that strike you?

STACKHOUSE: Anyone who would say the next Tiger Woods is somebody that doesn't really play golf because if you know golf very well, at 17 years old, Tiger had won some amazing tournaments. And, you know, I've done well in quite a few, but I haven't made any of the accomplishments that he's made in terms of the caliber tournaments that I have won, say, the U.S. Junior or the U.S. Amateur, and he had done those things.

So I think it's just a comparison made based on the fact that we are both young African-Americans in a sport that there are not many of us out here playing. So I think that's where that statement originates from. But it's definitely not something that I would dwell too much on, because there are significant differences between the two of us.

MARTIN: Spoken like a person who's on her way to Stanford.


MARTIN: Where Tiger Woods also studied for a minute.


MARTIN: Before he went to go pro. I did want to just ask one more question, before we get back to golf, about the racial aspect of it, though. Because you do know that there are golf courses that were restrictive - where they specifically did not allow African-Americans or Jews, for that matter, to be members, let alone to play. There are still, of course, there's a whole issue around Augusta National doesn't allow women as members.

You know, this is something that Tiger talked about early in his career and stopped talking about. I mean, for example, in his first ad for American Express he talked about the fact that, you know, opportunities had been denied because of the color of his skin or that he would not have been able to have some of these opportunities, at least earlier in the life of the sport. Do you even think about that anymore? Is that even part of your consciousness?

STACKHOUSE: I don't see much of that anymore, even if there are people out here who are prejudiced. They do their best to hide it. And I've never really had any experiences with treatment that was not as well as my competitors due to race. Or at least I'm not aware of it. And my dad has always been around me all the times that I'm on the golf course. And he was pretty protective of me at a young age.

And I think now I know how to handle certain situations and I present myself and I try to be a nice young lady and just not ever be in a situation or not place myself in a situation that I don't have to be in.

MARTIN: You know, as we are talking, the Women's World Cup in soccer has just been played and there was a lot of excitement about this. Obviously, in this country when, you know, 'cause Americans were in the final and that stuff, but there have been struggles in the women's side of some of these sports.

For example, on the one hand, like in tennis, the purses have become - the winnings have equalized over time. But on the women's side of your sport they have not. In fact, the tour has been curtailed at some point because, you know, the sponsorships just haven't been there, the television ratings have not been as large and so forth. Do you feel in any way as a girl that the playing field is level for you? That you can have as much opportunity in sport because of your gender?

STACKHOUSE: There is a lot more available to men who play professional golf then there are women. But I think that as the years go along, we'll see more progression on the LPGA tour. Every sport has setbacks. And I think that they're trying to figure out ways to get new sponsorships for the tour and we'll see improvement. I don't think I'll be denied anything. But that's another reason that I'm going to college and I wanted to go to the best one possible because you don't know, you know, where a sport can take you. So I want to make sure that I have an education behind me in case things don't work out.

MARTIN: What do you plan to study at Stanford?

STACKHOUSE: It's going to be a business-related major. And I also have some interests in medicine. So I'll minor in a science. But maybe when I get there my interests will change. But right now it's business and medicine are my interests.

MARTIN: And possibly a career in diplomacy, from what I hear from these answers.


MARTIN: Perhaps former secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, who was also at Stanford, might have some thoughts on that if she gets her hands on you, from what I hear.

And, finally, do you have any tips for us amateurs?

STACKHOUSE: All I have to say is make sure that you're having fun because golf can be very frustrating at times if you put too much pressure on yourself. You have to be patient on the golf course. So just have fun. It's going to take you a while to develop skills and to begin to hit the ball with authority. And if you expect to step out there and show out the first time you get on the course, then I don't think golf is your sport.


MARTIN: OK. Mariah Stackhouse is the youngest African-American qualifier for a U.S. Women's Open. She's also a player representative for the American Junior Golf Association. And she's headed off to Stanford in the fall of 2012. Mariah, thank you so much for joining us.

STACKHOUSE: Thank you for having me, Michel. It was my pleasure.

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