9-Year-Old Prepares For National Tournament

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When 9-year-old Dean Harpe hits the ball down the fairway, no one knows what to expect. Since he hit a drive 195 yards a few months ago, Harpe has proved he is capable of just about anything.

"We didn't think he could hit that far considering his size and age. So, we were wowed," his mother Yvette Harpe said.

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Nine-year-old Dean Harpe will often go to bed at 7:30 p.m. so he can wake up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. to make tournament tee-off times in the Valley. His efforts paid off when he recently qualified to play in the fourth annual Jekyll Island Cup in Georgia.

Even for someone twice his age, 195 is good yardage, and his abilities have him among the best child golfers in the nation.

"He was third in points for all seven one-day tournaments and one two-day championship of the U.S. Kids Golf League," Yvette Harpe said.

"I was in tie-breakers almost every time," Dean said.

His record made him one of the top three golfers for his age and gender, and qualified him to play at the fourth annual Jekyll Island Cup in Georgia in February 2007, a regional championship tournament.

The top three finishers in the Jekyll Island tournament will qualify for the World Championship in June.

Harpe hopes to take home the win at Jekyll Island and will play in several tournaments this winter to prepare.

Because of the date of his birthday, Harpe may play in the Jekyll Island tournament against boys who are close to a year older -- contenders who have a year more practice time for their swings plus gains in weight and height.

But at four-and-a-half feet and about 75 pounds, Harpe is focused on the positive.

"Football helps him stay strong," his mother said.

He does sit-ups, pushups and other exercises to stay fit for the Arizona Football League Bears, but golf is his passion.

"I like golf because I have fun and no matter how old you are you can still play," Harpe said.

Unlike football, golf is an independent sport -- one Harpe makes sacrifices for, like going to bed at 7:30 p.m. so he can wake up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. to make tournament tee-off times in the Valley.

Juniors play nine holes and tournaments last about two hours. They win medals, trophies, hatpins and sometimes gift certificates to the pro shop rather than money.

A golfer is not allowed a sponsor without becoming a professional.

The strict rules of golf provided a recent learning experience for Harpe.

He won first place in the 2006 Ping Junior Masters, but a scorecard error was discovered after the event and he was disqualified. He chose to send the plaque back even though officials told him he could keep it.

The players keep each other's scores and the youth keeping Harpe's made a mistake, but it was Dean's responsibility to catch the error.

"All that work," Dean said with a shake of his head. "But it would not have been right to keep (the award)."

"We would rather have had it happen now than when we were trying to keep track for a college scholarship," Yvette said.

Harpe's dad, Tom, is his coach. Harpe got his start with plastic clubs in his Boise, Idaho back yard at the age of 2.

He inherited his first set of real clubs from his sister and started playing and competing on three-hole course tournaments at age 5. He moved to Payson in first grade and started competing the next year.

He is on his fourth set of clubs, which will last him another year.

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