In early April, Gerry "Bubba" Watson won the 2012 Masters Tournament on the second playoff hole. His second shot, to essentially sew up the Green Jacket, was arguably the most clutch shot in major championship history, and certainly a shot that no one other than Bubba himself would have attempted, let alone executed to perfection.
That week was the first that many were introduced to the fidgety 33-year-old from Baghdad, Fla. Some knew that he was self-taught, having never had a formal lesson. Others recognized him from the now infamous "Golf Boys" video, while others learned that he is the proud new owner of The General Lee from the television series "The Dukes of Hazzard." Watson is certainly the most well-known of the unconventional golfers, but he’s not the only one. There's a 15-year-old girl looking to fill his shoes. She's one of Watson's biggest fans, and her name is Lyberty Allexis Anderson.
Anderson is the daughter of Bruce Wayne and Christle Anderson, and despite what you may be thinking, she does not live in stately Wayne Manor. Far from it. Like Bubba once did, she is growing up in a loving, modest blue collar Southern home with her parents and younger sister, Jurnee. Her mother owns and operates a cleaning service, and her father owns and operates a collision center. As you might imagine, Anderson's blue collar is not popped, and the traditions of golf are not her thing. The country club life hasn't been the Andersons' style.
Like most kids, Anderson was introduced to the game of golf when she tagged along with her father. Wayne, as he prefers to be called, put a sawed-off (seriously) club in his daughter's hand when she was 5. The rest is history.
After a year of showing real promise with makeshift clubs and no formal lessons, Wayne entered his daughter into the U.S. Kids World Golf Championship State Qualifier in Virginia. Anderson shot 48 and missed qualifying for the World Championship by one stroke.
Most 6-year-old girls wouldn't have thought twice about it. Back to other childhood distractions. But Anderson has never been like most girls.
"I took that loss hard, but it was the best thing that ever happened to me, because it made me want to get better and win next year," she said.
The next year, at the age of 7, Anderson shot 42, and qualified for the U.S. Kids World Championship in Williamsburg. As each year passed, Anderson showed great improvement, and at the age of 10, she broke par for the first time, shooting 35 on nine holes, at Roanoke Country Club in a Virginia State Junior Girls Tournament. The following summer, she shot a 63 on the par 66 course at The First Tee of Chesterfield, and when she was 11, she shot a 69 on Pinehurst No. 5 in a U.S. World Kids Tournament, a mind-blowing score for that age.
The success kept coming, but the path she took to find it was far different than that of the girls and women she was competing against.
Anderson, like her favorite golfer Watson, has never had a formal lesson, and she doesn't believe in beating balls on the range until her hands fall off. She is not a robot. She is the anti-Michelle Wie, the anti-Tiger Woods.
"Personally, I prefer to go out and play nine holes," she said. "Playing allows you to get different lies, different shots, and mentally prepares you for whatever may happen on the course. If it's slow out, I will drop a few balls around the green or hit different shots on par threes, that's my version of practicing."
And no matter where Anderson can be found hitting golf balls, she is easily recognizable. Not because she's particularly tall, or particularly short, but because she wears a camouflage hat with a Winchester logo (yes, that Winchester) over her light blonde bob, and Velcro straps around her knees that she's been wearing since basketball-induced tendonitis struck in the seventh grade.
She earns no style points on the golf course, and she's OK with that. Off the course, in some sense, she's no different. Hanging at the pool and shopping at the mall is not her thing. She prefers putting in her ear buds, turning on the music and sitting behind the wheel of her riding lawn mower.
"It's my release from life," she said. "Not that life is particularly tough on me, but it's just my time to relax and let go."
When Anderson was eight, she began playing on the Plantations Junior Golf Tour (PJGT) in the 12-14 age group, and at the age of eleven she won the Duke University Classic, a Major on the tour.
At the age of 12, her last year of eligibility for U.S. Kids, she finished fifth at the World Championship, and qualified for the World Cup, a Ryder Cup-style tournament between the top eight boys and girls from the United States, and the top eight boys and girls from the rest of the world.
This next-day tournament was to be held on the famed Pinehurst No. 2. All that week, Anderson worked with a Pinehurst caddie, but on that Monday her dad was on the bag.
"I didn't want to do it," Wayne said. "I didn't want Lyberty to have the added pressure, and to be quite honest, I wasn't sure if I could handle the pressure either, but her caddie kept insisting that I do it, and looking back on it now, I'm glad I was able to share that special moment with [her]."
She shot an even par 72 that day, and closed out her match on the 16th green. On the famed Donald Ross design, that's an enviable score for any golfer.
After graduating from U.S. Kids, and playing on the PJGT tour a few years, Anderson qualified for the Peggy Kirk Bell Tour (PKBT), a preeminent junior girls golf tour, where she quickly became a force. Each of the past three years, she has competed in multiple events, and has racked up multiple wins on tour.
The most notable win came in 2010 at The Richmond Classic, held at Hunting Hawk Golf Club, near her hometown in Virginia. On the way to her victory, and a Major Championship on tour, Anderson shot a 66, which until a few weeks ago stood as the women's course record.
Last summer as just a freshman, Anderson won the Virginia High School League Girl's Golf State Championship by shooting a 69-67, which stands as a VHSL Girl’s Golf State record. And this year, Lyberty sits atop the Order of Merit on the PKBT, early in the season.
Outside of her dominance at the junior level, she has also won the past three Richmond Women's Golf Association titles, winning her first title as a 7th grader.
"The first time I saw Lyberty, she was maybe 8 or 9 years old, and when she introduced herself she said, if you want my autograph, you can have it, because I'm going to be somebody someday," Boodie McGurn, multiple champion of the RWGA, said.
But McGurn sensed no arrogance about the young golfer that day. Instead, she noticed an air of confidence that was quickly supported by incredible talent and poise for such a young person.
"Lyberty, like most kids these days, gets up to the tee and rips it a mile (regularly over 300 yards). Sometimes into the trees, but always a mile," McGurn said. "And she is never worried about her next shot. Like Bubba Watson, if she has a swing, she has a shot."
Having such a great start to her career has garnered Anderson much-deserved regional and national attention. Last summer, she accepted one of two sponsor exemptions to play in the Eagle Classic, an LPGA Future's Tour Event at Richmond Country Club. She shot even par 72 on the first day, and under horrible weather conditions, an 83 on the second day.
"The first thing Lyberty did when she walked off 18 green after shooting 83 was apologize to the tournament director for her poor play," Wayne said. "She was so disappointed with her round that she failed to realize what a great feat she had just accomplished."
But The tournament director was so impressed with Anderson that he has invited her back to play again this summer. She has that date circled on her calendar, and redemption is on her mind.
Currently the 176th ranked junior golfer in the world, she has quite a resume, and will be highly sought after by college coaches in the fall. But what best separates her from the 175 girls above her in the junior world rankings, is not only how she has gotten where she is today on the course, but also who she is off the course.
When Anderson is not playing golf or riding lawn mowers, she is fulfilling a passion that demonstrates just who she really is -- a kid with a heart as big as her golf swing.
On April 25, she co-hosted the inaugural "It'z A New Day Golf Tournament" that raised more than $5,000 for two local charities, one of which is the Children's Hospital.
Out of all of the tee shots she has hit during her golf career, none was more nerve-racking than the one she hit to commence her tournament.
"To be able to help those kids means the world to me," Anderson said. "They are such an inspiration to me; they really put everything into perspective."
Anderson, still a kid herself, has two more years in high school before she takes on the next chapter in her life, which in all likelihood will include highly competitive college and amateur golf.
After that, Anderson wants to play professionally on the LPGA Tour, before becoming a golf fitness instructor or college coach. Based on everything that she has done so far, both in and through the game of golf, there is every reason to believe that she will accomplish her goals and then some.
If growing up conventionally in golf (hours at a country club, with a swing coach and mono-focused on the game) is the measuring stick, then she is an absolute failure. But if learning to excel at golf through passion and grit, and understanding that the game is merely an outlet to leave the world a better place than you found it, then Anderson sits atop the leader board.
Because when she's in the trees and has to hit a 40-yard hook to win, like Bubba did to win The Masters, she knows she can do it.
With all that promise exploding with each swing, there’s only one question left to ask: When's the "Golf Girls" video coming out?
"Stay tuned,” Anderson grinned and said, "You never know."
-- William R. "Rob" Sievers is a Partner and Chair of the Sports and Entertainment Law practice group at TaylorWalker PC in Richmond, Va. Follow him on Twitter @SportsEsquire.
An (unedited) interview with Anderson after a 66 at the Hunting Hawk Classic
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