LINKS
2012-08-22 / Front Page

At 9 years old, a golfing prodigy

By Jim McConnell
STAFF WRITER


Justin LaRue, a 9-year-old from Chester, recently tied for eighth place in his age division at the U.S. Kids World Golf Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. See story page 18. Justin LaRue, a 9-year-old from Chester, recently tied for eighth place in his age division at the U.S. Kids World Golf Championship in Pinehurst, N.C. See story page 18. Chesterfield resident Chris LaRue wasn’t trying to raise a golfing prodigy. He wound up with one anyway.

His son, Justin LaRue, is one of the best 9-year-old golfers on the planet. Watch him for 10 minutes with a pitching wedge in his hands, and you’ll be inclined to ask Chris for proof of the boy’s age.

Seriously, 9-year-olds aren’t supposed to possess a syrupy-smooth blend of tempo and power. They’re not supposed to spin the ball on the green like Phil Mickelson. They’re not supposed to make a game that’s absolutely confounding for most adults look incredibly easy.

“I have to work hard,” said Justin, who tied for eighth place in the 9-year-old division of the 2012 U.S. Kids World Championship, a 54-hole event held Aug. 2-4 at the Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.


Chesterfield resident Justin LaRue, who recently returned from the 2012 U.S. Kids World Championship in North Carolina, started playing golf when he was 2 years old. 
Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer Chesterfield resident Justin LaRue, who recently returned from the 2012 U.S. Kids World Championship in North Carolina, started playing golf when he was 2 years old. Jim McConnell/Chesterfield Observer In all, 123 9-year-old boys teed it up at Pinehurst’s demanding No. 8 course, which played to a championship length of 4,545 yards. Included were kids from Mexico, Colombia, South Africa, England, Germany, Canada and Japan.

Despitecardinga9onthethirdholeof his second round, LaRue rebounded to shoot rounds of 74, 75 and 74, finishing tied at 7-over par with Mexico’s Fernando Castillo.

“I was truly proud of him for hanging tough and staying in the game,” Chris said. “He surprised me how well he fought back.”

By now, little of what Justin does on a golf course should come as a surprise to his father. The boy started playing the game when he was 2 years old, swinging a sand wedge with a shaft that his father cut down to fit his son’s diminutive stature.

Right away, Chris recognized that Justin had the ability to square the club at impact and consistently make solid contact with the ball.

The elder LaRue still has a photo of his son, holding his pose on the follow through of an iron shot and looking every bit like a PGA Tour pro.

Justin was 3 years old.

“About 90 percent of what he does is just his own natural ability,” said Chris, who serves as his son‘s caddie and swing coach. “He spends a lot less time hitting balls than chipping and putting.”

Putting is Justin’s favorite part of the game – and for a reason that makes perfect sense to a person his age.

“I’m really good at it,” he said.

How good? During the final round at Pinehurst, Justin was in a group that included Castillo, one of the few players in the field who had a professional caddie on his bag instead of a parent or coach.

Castillo’s caddie read every green for him and lined him up, leaving the boy to simply stroke the putt. Justin still managed to putt better than Castillo and beat him by one stroke.

“He has a knack for reading greens better than I do,” Chris said. “I decided that if he can see breaks I can’t see, I’m going to step back and let him take over.”

The hands-off approach has worked. When Justin is playing well and feeling good, his father wears the dad hat and doesn’t say much other than “good shot.” If he’s struggling, Chris will try to help him focus on keeping things simple and correcting one part of his swing.

At the same time, both father and son acknowledged that there have been moments when the last thing Justin wants to hear is advice on his golf game.

“Will you please stop talking? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that,” Chris said with a laugh.

Justin played nine events on the 2012 Jamie Fagan Richmond Junior Golf Tour and won the last seven. He also won the 9-and-under division by 13 strokes at the Virginia State Golf Association Youth Championship on Aug. 8-9, closing with a 2-under par 52 on Independence Golf Club’s Sawyer Short Course.

Chris noted that Justin thrives on competition and “has a switch he can turn on whenever there’s a kid putting heat on him.”

Many of the boys he competes against at the world championship tournament live in California, Florida or foreign countries with temperate climates that allow them to play golf on a year-round basis.

One of Justin’s best friends at Pinehurst, third-place finisher Casey Jarvis, hails from Johannesburg, South Africa. Golf season lasts 12 months there, making it possible for him to practice three hours a day, six days a week.

Chris wonders how good Justin could be if he didn’t have to put his clubs away for four months every year. But Justin seems perfectly fine with the way things are now.

“I think after six months, I’d probably get a little bored,” he said.

That’s the last thing Chris wants for his son.

“One of the things I keep in mind is to not overdo it,” the elder LaRue said. “We want to keep him excited and having fun playing golf.”

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