Hermosa youth knows his course in life
Tanner Stewart’s blossoming golf career was launched on the Wii.
When the Hermosa Beach resident was only four years old, he began playing virtual games on his new Wii game console. He and his older brother quickly excelled at all the Wii Sports — baseball, basketball, bowling and more. But one sport in particular captured Tanner’s interest immediately.
“We played golf all the time,” he said. “It just seemed really interesting.”
Now nine years old and a fourth grader at Hermosa Valley School, Stewart is no longer just playing around with a game controller. He is competing in youth golf tournaments across Southern California — and winning.
Three years ago, Stewart became involved with various kids programs and summer camps at The Lakes in El Segundo. Six months ago he placed 5th in his first tournament, and in May became the overall champion of the Los Angeles Spring Local Tour within his division that consisted of eight 9-hole events. He ended the tournament series with a low score of even par and an average score of 40, earning him the trophy by besting 17 other boys in his age group.
“It made me feel really good,” Tanner said of his first big win. “It made me more confident. And it’s just really fun to compete with everyone.”
The glint in Stewart’s eyes when he discusses the thrill of competition is hard to miss, and it seems that his passion for the game has already put him on a path to success. But Stewart’s dad, Dunham Stewart, says the goal is still just to let him play.
“We just love that he is having fun,” Dunhan said. “Golf is a sport he can play his entire life, so as long as he continues to enjoy it. That’s the only thing we care about.”
Tanner’s love for golf is apparent as he happily chips around the putting green at The Lakes after school. But his intense focus and attention to detail also make it clear that this soon-to-be-fifth-grader is already a serious student of the game.
“We have this game we play with trivia,” PGA Professional and golf coach Josh Alpert said about Stewart. “If you ask him who won tournaments 20 years ago, he’s memorized them all.”
Alpert is the founder of Good Swings Happen Jr. Golf Academy — a program that is designed to introduce kids to the game of golf, and then hone both their skills and their passion for the sport. Alpert met Stewart two years ago through the summer camps he runs at The Lake, and has worked with him individually since then.
“He gets super focused and he is very intense about what he does,” Alpert said. “And I mean that in a really good way. He’s definitely a detail guy.”
One detail Stewart likes to focus on is the layout of each course he plays. His pre-tournament ritual involves visualizing each hole before he even sets foot on the course.
“I usually visualize it all in my head,” Stewart said. “Where the aim is, where the miss is, where I want it to be. I like being on my own to take notes about a course.”
Alpert said he is amazed at Stewart’s ability to memorize golf courses he has yet to visit. In an exercise during one summer program, Alpert gave the kids string of various colors and asked them to set up a miniature course around a hole on the putting green.
According to Alpert, most kids will tie the string around tees to make a square or a triangle and play from there. Not Stewart. Instead, he began working on a long, curving path around his hole that began to look vaguely familiar.
“I looked over at Tanner, and he was making the 13th hole at Augusta,” Alpert said. “He recreated one of the most famous Masters holes from memory. I am always impressed with that creativity.”
Alpert likes to use that creativity and Stewart’s detailed memory to improve his play.
“We may be on the driving range and I’ll say ‘here’s the situation,’” Alpert said. “I’ll talk him through this 400-yard imaginary hole until he can see it, and then he’ll play it. That’s how his mind works best.”
Stewart’s attempts to emulate the pros extend beyond his physical training. He always shows up to the golf course dressed in slacks and a nice polo shirt because, as he coyly put it, “it’s mature.”
When asked if he is building his wardrobe for when he’s a professional, Stewart just smiled and said, “Well, I wouldn’t say I’m building it, but I do like it. I think I would like becoming pro.”
This summer, Stewart’s golf schedule will be in full swing. He recently tied for third in the Junior Development League Summer Series Tournament at The Lakes and will begin playing in the first of nine events that make up the Los Angeles Summer Tour.
Stewart will also play on The Lakes Junior Golf Team competing against other club teams from Southern California. While his goals for the immediate future are clear (“I want to win!”,) what lies further ahead for Stewart is still uncertain.
“His commitment to the game, his work ethic, his practice and his ability are all the ingredients of an amazing player,” Alpert said. “But we are only a mile into the marathon, so we’ll have to wait and see where Tanner goes from here.”
Although Stewart admits he will continue to explore other sports as well (he just finished a successful baseball season and plans to play basketball next year), for now he is excited about the summer of golf ahead of him.
“I’m really pumped up,” he said after finishing his event Saturday. “I’m looking forward to playing on a bunch of different courses I’ve never seen before. And I’m definitely improving.”