Junior golfer one of many offering hope to a sport in flux

Although it is estimated that a million players per year give up on golf — a majority of the fairway flight taking place among 18- to 40-year-olds — a new generation could slowly be taking its place, including players such as La Jolla Elementary School first-grader Daniel Chazen.

In January, the 6-year-old WindanSea resident won all three junior tournaments he played in for his age division — including a U.S. Kids Golf Association tourney in Las Vegas, a Valley Junior Golf Association tourney in Temecula and Future Champions Junior Golf competition in Point Loma.

He also won another Valley Junior Golf tourney in Temecula Feb. 15, and came in second place Feb. 7 during a Future Champions contest at Reidy Creek Golf Course in Escondido. Although father Ben Chazen said Daniel probably played his best since entering his first tournament a year ago, Reidy Creek proved to be a tough course with sand traps and other obstacles. In addition, the first-place finisher, Carlsbad resident Kyle Jakubowski, got three birdies in a row — a tough act to follow, Ben Chazen said.

But Daniel largely takes it in stride, learning to manage what his parents consider to be his competitive nature and the inherent frustration of golf.

“That was hard on him in the beginning, maybe not winning,” said Daniel’s mother, Mimi Chazen. “He’s come so far from being really upset when he wasn’t doing that well to just kind of understanding that anybody can win at any given time. … We just want him to have fun.”

Ben Chazen said in many ways golf is the hardest sport for a youngster — particularly putting — but it has taught his son patience and etiquette.

“And I get to make new friends” (such as Kyle Jakubowski), said Daniel, who also expressed a passion for watching his favorite pro golfers compete on TV — including Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Ben Hogan and Arnold Palmer.

“I’d rather watch golf with my dad and learn than just sitting around on the couch,” said Daniel, who is related to Herman Barron (1909-1978), the first Jewish golfer to win a PGA Tour event.

Daniel also excels at math, chess and basketball, playing point guard on a team with boys ages 8-9.

“He dribbles around them and scores on a regulation hoop,” his father chimed.

“You don’t want to have your kid focus on just golf,” Ben Chazen added. “You want them to be athletic, you want them to do other sports. All the PGA pros, all the coaches and all the teachers say the same thing. … It gives you a (better) ability to play.”

Daniel said golf is a good sport for retiring basketball players who can’t run like they once did. “You can do it until you’re 90 years old,” he chimed.

His father, who takes Daniel to play once or twice a week at the Mission Bay municipal golf course, said the sport is not as expensive for younger players as some might think.

“Juniors can get a card for $25 (for a city golf course) and then play for $10 a month,” he said. “I can bring him to Mission Bay anytime during the week that I want, unlimited. I could even bring him to Torrey Pines for the twilight rate — and I’m going to start doing that.”

Asked if he has any goals in the sport, Daniel repeats the question thoughtfully. “Hmm. … I would like to get better at chipping,” he replied, adding that next summer when he is 8, he hopes to compete against junior golfers from around the world — and win — in the U.S. Kids World Golf Championship in Pinehurst, North Carolina, a distinction held last year by Rancho Santa Fe’s Jay Leng, Jr.

“He’s the best 9-year-old player ever!” Daniel enthused.