NORCROSS, Ga. -- Michael Thorbjornsen (Wellesley, Mass.) and Mimi Chen (Longwood, Fla.) have been named National Players of the Year, U.S. Kids Golf announced Monday. Thorbjornsen, 12, earned the honor for the second year in a row, while 11-year-old Chen is a first-time National Player of the Year.
"The National Player of the Year Award is the highest honor U.S. Kids Golf can present to these great junior golfers," said Dan Van Horn, President and CEO of U.S. Kids Golf. "In addition to congratulating the players, I'd like to commend the families that support their players and help them compete at all levels, both locally and nationally."
Since 2012, the U.S. Kids Golf National Player of the Year award has recognized two players (one boy and one girl) who have excelled in U.S. Kids Golf local and national competitions. To be eligible for the award, players must be Player of the Year on a Local Tour in the United States, and they must compete in an age group that plays 54 holes in the World Championship (Boys 9 and older, Girls 10 and older).
Thorbjornsen has competed in U.S. Kids Golf tournaments since he was 6 years old, and his record includes 13 Local Tour Player of the Year honors (11 on the Boston tour, two on the Hartford tour). He won the World Championship in 2012 en route to being named the first National Player of the Year, and in 2013 he became just the 10th boy to win back-to-back World Championships in the event's 14-year history.
"It's a really big honor to win the award again because I worked so hard during the year," said Thorbjornsen, who shot 9-under-par (71-68-68 - 207) to win the 2013 World Championship. "Player of the Year didn't really come to mind, so I just went out and played the best I could."
Though he has now competed in six World Championships, Thorbjornsen said his first trip to Pinehurst in 2008 is something he still remembers. He finished 76th out of 83 players that year, but Thorbjornsen said a new friend gave him confidence that helped him in the future.
"I remember Ethan Chung. I met him at the driving range and even though he was one of the best players, he didn't put that into consideration into our friendship," Thorbjornsen said. "Playing with him on the putting green was really cool because it didn't matter how good I was, it just mattered if he liked to have fun with me."
Chen's love for golf started with a love for building sand castles in bunkers when she was 5 years old. By age 7, she began practicing more seriously, and at age 8 she shot 43 and finished second in her first event on the Orlando Local Tour.
"I remember having fun and just going out and hitting shots and making friends," Chen said of her first U.S. Kids Golf tournament. "My mom said 'don't take it too seriously, just meet friends and have fun.'"
Since her first tournament in 2010, Chen's record includes three consecutive Player of the Year titles on the Orlando Summer Local Tour (2010-2012). In three appearances at the World Championship, she has a pair of runner-up finishes (2011, 2013) and a victory in 2012.
"It's a really good feeling and I'm really proud of myself," Chen said. "I'm going to keep working harder and my goal is to keep improving and not to beat anyone, but to beat myself and the course."
By Chen's side has been her mother, who has helped teach her the game and is most often her caddie.
"My mom plays golf too and I personally think she's pretty good. She works hard and I really look up to that," Chen said. "She's a good caddie because she doesn't exactly take control. She gives me advice and lets me choose between two choices and she will give suggestions and not overcoach."
About U.S. Kids Golf
U.S. Kids Golf, LLC is based in Atlanta and manufactures equipment and related golf products designed for kids. It was created in 1997 when Founder/CEO Dan Van Horn found that his children were losing their interest in golf due to not having the proper equipment. In addition to more than 4,000 golf shops and retail locations in the United States, the company's products also are available in over 75 countries worldwide.
The U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, a Georgia non-profit recognized as a 501(c)(3) charity, was created in 2001 and provides services that include competition and instruction. The Foundation organizes more than 750 golf tournaments for kids each year with over 10,000 individual players ages 5-18. These tournaments include Local Tours in more than 50 cities, 10 Qualifiers across the nation, seven Regional Championships, a European and Malaysia Championships and the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship and Teen World Championship, which are held each year in Pinehurst, N.C.
The vision of the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation is to provide kids and their families the opportunity participate in the game of golf through instruction and competition. They believe that family interaction is critical in the development of young golfers and encourage parents to serve as caddies for their kids during tournaments and to develop positive coaching techniques.
Connect with U.S. Kids Golf
Chris Richards, U.S. Kids Golf
770-441-3077, ext. 642