Karle Hitting Right Chord
First-Day 73 Doesn't Squash Title Hopes
North Plains, Ore. – It’s hard to comprehend that being an accomplished pianist could serve as a conduit to golf.
For 16-year-old Taylore Karle, it’s commonsensical. Karle has parlayed a 10-year classical piano-playing fixation into a successful junior career. In many ways, the golf imitates musicianship. Or is it the other way around?
“I took piano lessons for years and years,” said seven-time USGA champion Carol Semple Thompson, 57, whose mother Phyllis can also hold her own on the ivories. “But if there’s one thing I remember the teacher telling me, he said you have to be sitting up and play poised like you’re playing a sport.”
It might sound like a reach, but it really isn’t. Golf necessitates the same kind of unyielding discipline that an instrument requires. Hitting a proper shot can be as harmonious as striking the right keys.
“My dad and I would have a lot of discussions in that the feel of the putter should be like playing the piano,” said the Scottsdale, Ariz., native after carding a 2-over-par 73 in the first round of U.S. Women's Amateur stroke-playing qualifying Monday at Pumpkin Ridge Golf Club's Witch Hollow Course.
Karle tries to stay sharp, playing every day, but finds it tough when she’s traveling for golf. Sometimes she’ll scout out a piano in a hotel, sitting there like a beacon of joy, and immerse herself in Beethoven.
Karle isn’t all about the chords. She’s smart too. She saw room for improvement in her 3.97 grade-point average a year ago at Notre Dame Prep. So what’d she do? Simply collared a 4.0 in 2005-06 as a sophomore, that’s all. It was enough to be recognized by her school as the 2005 Student Scholar Athlete. That prompted her, with parents Richard and Tonnie’s approval, to enroll in a home-school program that will expedite the last two years of high school. In other words, she’ll cram two years into one through an accredited structure. Already committed to Pepperdine University, Karle’s intention is to enter the school when 17-year-old brother Austyn, also a golfer, does next year.
It only seems right. The two picked up the game at the same time when Richard took them to an Austin, Texas, driving range to hit balls. Taylore was 9 years old. Richard had wanted to introduce them to something that could “remain with them forever” and something that “we could always play together as a family.” His banker, Mike Shearburn, tagged along. Shearburn held a USGA Handicap Index of 1 at the time and was asked to provide an overview of Austyn’s swing. They concealed themselves from everyone, moving to the far end of the range where they could be alone. At least they thought they were.
“When we walked down to the end of the range and started hitting balls, I noticed someone else was down there with us,” said Shearburn, who has been Taylore’s caddie ever since. “I had no idea who. So I turned around and Taylore had picked up a 7-iron and started taking practice shots. The way she hit the ball, to do it the way she did the first time with all the hand-eye coordination involved, I turned to Richard and said, 'There’s your star.’ ”
Shortly after in 2004, Richard ended his 18-year career as a high-tech salesman and moved the family to Scottsdale so that the kids could play more, figuring the area got more playable days a year than his previous residence. Soon he started developing car washes. The lessons he learned from his business practices were instilled in his kids and suggested be applied on the golf course. Most important, he stirred them to stay mentally positive.
“You have to be competitive and you can’t give up,” he said. “In business, you’re going to be told no a lot, but you can’t give up.”
They tried it out on dad, beating him consistently on the course before they were teenagers.
According to Richard, who’d offer encouraging words during her round Monday by always referencing her as “T,” it took a while for Karle to be bitten by the golf bug.
“She hasn’t been in love with it until the last two years,” he said.
The love affair might be traced to last year’s U.S. Girls’ Junior at BanBury Golf Club in Eagle, Idaho. It was there Karle sizzled to a 63 on the first day of stroke-play qualifying. She rode it to a two-day score of 130 that translated into the lowest 36-hole score ever in a USGA championship. She earned medalist honors. But soon she learned that being the medalist is like climbing Mt. Everest, getting to what you think is the peak, and finding out you still have another 2,000 feet to go.
Karle got upended in the second round. It was a rude awakening for the girl who has aspirations to be a professional. She learned “that you can be playing great and things will happen that won’t go your way,” she said.
This year she gained more insightful knowledge from an unlikely source at the U.S. Women’s Open at Newport (R.I.) Country Club. While waiting out lingering fog that postponed the first round, Karle bummed around with fellow junior golfer Jane Rah on a locker-room couch.
“Juli Inkster saw us and came over and sat down between us,” said Karle, who missed the cut with an 18-over 160. “I told her that, ‘Yeah, I feel sorry for the players with a 3 o’clock tee time. Juli said, ‘Rule No. 1, never feel sorry for anyone.’”
Namely, herself. Karle prepared for the biggest championship in women's golf by heeding friends’ advice, and working on distance off the tee and shots out of the rough. Except she forgot about putting, averaging a whopping 37.5 putts in the two rounds. It was the first time in a competitive event that Richard saw her unnerved.
“For the first time, I’d say yes,” he said. “How could you not be? It’s the pinnacle of golf.”
So she absorbed her lumps and moved on. Now she again finds herself measuring her game against cohorts she’s beaten in American Junior Golf Association tournaments. The goal is always to win. Sometimes they have to be reassessed, as they were Monday when she bogeyed four of her final five holes to finish with a pedestrian 73.
She instead looked at it another way, preferring the power of positive thinking when she drained a 40-footer for birdie on No. 9, her finishing hole.
“The last hole, I was like, ‘This is ridiculous,’” said Karle.
The ball lagged as it rambled toward the hole. Karle’s eyes widened like a cat’s. Voila, in tune with the golf gods.
Or, rather, just like hitting the right note on the piano.
Ken Klavon is the USGA's Web Editor. E-mail him with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.