Wilton seven-year-old competes at world golf event

He may be only seven years old, but Luke Kane is already making a name for himself in the world of golf.

The pint-sized Wiltonian, who’s been playing competitively for less than two years, is competing this week in the 2017 U.S. Kids Golf World Championships at the renowned Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.

The tournament, in its 18th year, is the largest and most prestigious event for 12-under players in the world, with more than 1,500 players from more than 50 countries expected to compete.

The weeklong event, which opened Monday, includes a parent/child tournament, team challenge, parade of nations, Honda skills challenge and the closing ceremony.

The individual tournaments will feature three rounds of nine-hole golf on Aug. 3-5, and are split into seven boys and girls divisions, ranging from 6-under to 12-under.

Luke, who is going into the second grade at Miller-Driscoll School, qualified for the world championship by winning two local tours in his age group — the U.S. Kids Golf Hartford Local Tour and the Westchester-Fairfield Local Tour.

His golf success has come as a surprise to his parents, Jody and Jayne, who both grew up playing tennis. They noticed that at an early age Luke had a gift for hitting balloons with a tennis racquet. They got him a set of plastic golf clubs when he was two-years old, and he quickly took to the new sport.

“His hand-eye coordination was pretty good so we got him a club for something else to do, and he just started whacking it around the house,” said his dad, Jody.

Things got a little more serious after the Kanes saw The Short Game, a Netflix documentary about a group of young golfers preparing for the 2012 U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. It opened up a new world to the family.

“We watched it and said, wow. It was so well-organized that we put him in a tournament,” said Jody. “The good thing is there’s so many kids his age that play because it’s easier to play than another sport, for now.”

Luke began playing in kids golf tournaments at the age of five, in the summer of 2015.

“He hit some random balls all over the place. We were surprised. He seemed to hit (the ball) pretty good. We took him to a couple of lessons,” said his dad.

He shot a 74 at Silvermine Golf Club, for nine holes, his first time out in the summer of 2015, on the U.S. Kids Golf Westchester-Fairfield Local Tour. That fall he took part in two matches in the Hartford tour, averaging 61.

Since then Luke has seen his scores plummet. His average dropped to 51 in the spring of 2016 on the Hartford tour, as he placed fifth in the 6-under age group.

Last fall, Luke took first place in the Hartford tour. He won three of the four matches he played in, averaging just under 43. He carded a career-best 40 at Simsbury Farms Golf Club last October.

He took first place in the U.S. Kids Golf Westchester-Fairfield Local Tour last summer in the 6-under age group, playing in six matches.

He also finished second (out of field a 25) in a local Drive Chip & Putt competition last summer at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, playing as a six-year-old in the 7-9 age group.

“He was the smallest kid there, by far,” said his dad.

On average Luke can drive the ball 120 yards, with his longest drive thus far just under 150 yards.

The strongest part of his game is the short game — particularly chipping.

“Some of the kids outdrive him by quite a bit but he keeps up with his chipping,” said his dad.

Luke, who also plays lacrosse, soccer and tennis, counts golf and tennis as his favorite sports — and Jordan Spieth as his favorite golfer.

He plays at the his home course, Redding Country Club, and takes lessons once or twice a month. While some of the golfers (and parents) on the local tours are almost like professionals in terms of their seriousness, most of the players are just trying to have fun and develop, said Jody.

“They’re just there to have fun. They whack it all over the place,” he said. “The competitions can be intense. Sometimes he has a lot of fun. Sometimes it’s stressful.”

This week’s world championships will be a new experience, in terms of competition. Last year’s 6-under tournament drew 81 participants from 19 counties. The winner, from Japan, finished 14 under par and averaged 31 for the three rounds.