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Crystal Neri | Callaway Junior World - Crystal Neri

Callaway Junior World


THE CALLAWAY JUNIOR WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP SHAPED MY CHILDHOOD. Every year, 1200 kids from 56 countries come to San Diego, California, for the biggest international event in the world. It’s one week bundled with a parade, college recruiting and a high-caliber junior golf tournament that produced the likes of Tiger Woods, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, etc. Winning this tournament — Junior World — consumed my family’s energy.

If any of us wins, the Philippine President might give us a Malacanang Palace invite and monetary gift up to one million pesos. We heard Presidents awarded large sums to former Filipino champions. We also heard Pepperdine University scouted Jayvie Agojo after many years of prominent finishes in the event.  At the least, we would be featured in newspapers all over the country and have our names engraved in Torrey Pines parade flags. Maybe. Whatever our presumptions were, this was the tournament that had the chance to turn our lives around.

Caddying for Ace in Sycuan, 2013. She finished 5th.

At that time, my dad’s worst threat was: “Hindi na kayo lalaro sa Junior World,” every time we played bad. And it was a real threat – the thought of staying at home for a month while the rest of the family are in San Diego; and missing Disneyland and Universal Studios, steak dinners, and tours of Balboa Park. Winning the Junior World qualifying round means you are truly the BEST junior golfer in the Philippines. Winning in Callaway Junior World means you are top-caliber on Earth. That’s a big deal for any kid, much so a competitive athlete who takes 12 months to prepare just for one tournament. A high-level pressure that non-athletes might not comprehend.

We had reached a pinnacle: At one point, my siblings and I were all world-class junior golfers. Between Wolen, Princess, Eagle and I, we had 24 Junior World showings within the last 11 years. Out of those 24, we had a combination of 11 Top-10 finishes. Certainly no other Filipino family has achieved that; most likely none of the tournament’s history had. In 2005, Wolen won the 11-12 boys’ division with a score of 21-under par. Only one other golfer broke this record: 14-year old Paphangkhorn Tavatanakit shot 23-under par in 2014. To play, we had asked countless people to financially support our trip. All my of siblings practiced until our hands bled. 

My sister, Princess Superal in Torrey Pines 2013. She has played Junior World ten times – six of them were top-10 finishes.

Maybe it’s the fact that children are impressionable and everything seems bigger. I thought Junior World could change our lives. In fact, it did not. I found my US college scholarship through an arbitrary online athlete’s profile. Wolen did not get any offers from Junior World. Princess is getting some already, but she’s not ready to take it yet. Granted, all the other Filipino champions in the recent years received Palace invites, magazine covers and accolades – but not money. It’s worth noting that the Philippines have had much more frequent winners recently than any other time. Kids have gotten way better. This is a testament to the Philippine junior golf program’s progress, both in support and training.

Me wearing yellow; Princess and Wolen finally together at the parade in 2014 

My last showing in Junior World was seven years ago. Every year, I’ve been attending parades, caddying, and watching my siblings play. As I stand on the side, watching hundreds of children line up at the parade, I can’t help but feel sympathy for them. I don’t know how much percentage gets “forced” to play by parents. I could only hope that they continue to carry the love of golf throughout their adult lives – even if they don’t do well in this particular tournament. Golf parents are ranked one of the worst stage-parents in all of sports (including baseball and cheerleading).

Junior World parade 2011 with our mom

Junior World is a grand arena, similar to World Cup or Olympics in prestige. But it is not the end-all be-all. Only in retrospect I recognized how the seemingly “life-changing” tournament is nothing but just another tournament – like hundreds of others. Today, Junior World has become a time for my family to golf and get-together. Our time of happiness. It’s the only reason my siblings ever come to America and see my mother once a year. And that is what I wish for the players and their parents this week: play well, and more importantly, make this a time for joy.