Practice makes perfect for promising golfer

Zoey Rhoda and father Ashton on a break between rounds

Like most youngsters her age, Zoey Rhoda, 11, from Muizenberg , loves making TikTok videos, playing video games and playing with her dog, Max.

But unlike most, she also loves to play golf.

And, she’s been at it for a while, playing since the age of 8 and tagging along with her father Ashton and her grandfather, Owen, both avid golfers. These days the two can be seen following her around on the golf course, dad acting as her caddy and grandpa following close by in a golf cart. It’s an ideal bonding opportunity for three generations of Rhodes.

“Zoey always enjoys spending time with her mom, whether it’s shopping, doing their hair, or having their nails done – she’s got a very strong bond with her mother. Golf was a means for the two of us to connect and bond,” her father said.

She has competed in multiple competitions and tournaments, finishing first, second or third in some.

The energetic tween recently won the SA Kids Golf Open at Rondebosch Golf Club. SA Kids Golf is an organisation supported by the PGA (Professional Golfers Association) of South Africa and sanctioned by the SAGA (South African Golf Association). They host monthly events or tournaments at various golf clubs across the Western Cape, Gauteng and KZN regions. Their mission is to promote kids’ golf (ages 5 to 14) at a level of competitiveness, by creating opportunities and awareness of the rules, integrity, and etiquette of golf, while enabling them to compete internationally. While some may find the technical aspect of the game a bit intimidating, especially at a young age, Zoey cuts a confident figure as she struts purposefully across the green, from one hole to the next.

“She played extremely well, managing to score her personal best to date and coming first in her age group and category, ” her father said.

“The conditions were tough – the weather harsh and quite extreme with bouts of rain and strong winds blowing at 35km consistently. Zoey started off very well with a par one at the first hole and a birdie on the second. She also managed a 230m drive on the fifth hole which is something she has never done before. Through these tough conditions Zoey remained focused and went on to win – picking up six pars and one birdie throughout her round,” he said.

It’s been a busy month for Zoey as she’s taken part in a number of WP tournaments, including the Clovelly Winter Series under-13 and under-15 tournament a fortnight ago and the Atlantic Beach Junior Championship at the weekend. In September, she will compete in the Royal Cape Junior Championship and the Strand Junior Championship.

Clearly one to keep an eye on, Zoey was invited to WP Golf Junior Academy two years ago to play and socialise with girls of a like-minded nature. The Western Province Girls Junior Squad is a structure providing group coaching sessions by professional coaches and funded by WP Golf.

The Western Province girls junior squad focuses on providing a safe platform (as far as is financially, organisationally, and realistically feasible) for players, of varying ages and golfing skills who have a golf handicap, the opportunity to develop their golfing ability fully, advance their personal growth and gain valuable life and social skills.

It also provides a platform for the Junior WP/WGSA ranked players to develop as role models and mentors to the less experienced players.

The basic requirements to join this programme is for junior girls to have a golf handicap, can play to a CH 36 and have played in an 18-hole competition. As expected, Zoey ticked off all the boxes.

“Back when she was 8 years old, myself and her grandfather decided to take her with us to the River Club, in Observatory. While hitting a few balls, Zoey asked if she could try it out. I went to the Pro Shop and hired a junior golf club for her to use and got a bucket of balls. My father and I didn’t give Zoey any pointers or tips. She basically looked at what we were doing and did the same. We were absolutely amazed at how natural her swing was. A few other visitors as well as a few of the pros (working at the River Club) came around to watch her and were all under the impression that she had been playing for a while. They were equally astonished at the fact that this was her first time ever swinging a golf club. From that point she got hooked and wanted to join us whenever we went there,” he said.

Rhoda is a firm believer in the old adage, “the more I practice, the luckier I get,” a popular quote said to have been coined by legendary SA golfer Gary Player. Of course, this is true not just of golf, but of just about anything you put your mind to, especially when it comes to the basics of the game.

“It’s always important to build a solid foundation and to make sure the fundamentals are taken into account, even with her natural ability to play this sport. Myself and my wife felt that it would be in her best interest to get a coach to help develop her game. Over the past year, she has been coached by Kurt Stripp at the Royal Cape Golf Club. Kurt and Zoey have been working extremely hard on all aspects of her game and we have seen a tremendous improvement. Prior to Kurt, she was being coached by the late Lloyd Kriel who was instrumental in the earlier years of Zoey’s development – always making sure that she had fun and enjoyed the game.”

With fun being the operative word, Zoey is quick to point out that she’s not too concerned about winning, so no pressure at all, she says. That said, the youngster has a competitive edge that puts her a cut above her peers and hopes to follow in the footsteps of her role model, American Nelly Korda, who plays on the LPGA Tour and had won gold at this year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. She says she’s also a fan of Kelly’s countryman, Tiger Woods.

“I like playing golf with my dad and grandfather. It’s always fun to play with them. I also like to be outside. It keeps me fit and is always challenging. I also like to play in competitions and win trophies. My aim is to practice more and play in the LPGA one day,” she said.

Promising golfer Zoey Rhoda
Zoey Rhoda and father Ashton on a break between rounds

Zoey Rhoda tees off under the watchful eye of her father and caddy Ashton Rhoda.
Zoey Rhoda prepares to tee off during the SA Kids Golf Open at Rondebosch Golf Club