Ransom Everglades boys’ golf coach Dave Ragan III wasn’t exactly thrilled about having an 11-year-old try out for his team this summer.
“I can’t have him playing with my 17-year-olds,” Ragan said of his thought process at the time. “The kid may be good from [shorter] yardage, but can he play from the men’s tees?
“And I didn’t want him to cry if things didn’t go well.”
The “kid” Ragan was referring to was sixth-grader Jake Beber-Frankel. And after the boy’s father asked for a tryout, Ragan, wanting to be polite, reluctantly agreed.
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A two-day tryout was arranged.
“I put him with three seniors so I could discard him,” Ragan said. “But Jake shoots a 37 from the men’s tees at Biltmore and is in second place among 15 kids I had trying out, including 10 returners.
“The next day I’m thinking: ‘He can’t do it again.’ But he shoots a 36 and has the top two-day score on our entire team.”
Making it more surprising is the fact that Beber-Frankel hasn’t hit a major growth spurt yet and is just 5-feet tall and 85 pounds.
Added Ragan: “The seniors are looking at me and saying: ‘Who is this kid?’”
The answer to that question is that Beber-Frankel is one of the best young golfers in the country — perhaps in the top 25 in his age group.
But he is not alone among Miami golf phenoms.
Belen’s Leo Herrera, another sixth-grader, is every bit as good and sometimes better. The two have traded victories when they have matched up against each other in national age-group tournaments.
“Leo is a prodigy,” Belen coach Mario Avello said of Herrera, who is 5-0, 110 pounds and just turned 12 years old. “He has an unbelievable short game.
“His dad is about 6-2. When Leo grows a bit more, we’re talking about a kid who can win golfer of the year, even as a seventh-grader.”
On the girls’ side, Carrollton eighth-grader Tanya Eathakotti, 13, finished fifth at the 2012 Dade County Youth Fair tournament and improved to second place this year.
One thing that separates the 5-5, 110-pound Eathakotti from many other golfers is that she is a terrific all-around athlete, playing basketball for her middle school team.
“She loves to compete,” Carrollton coach Armando Echeverria said. “I think she wants to try out for softball, too, even though I don’t think she has ever been on a softball team before.
“I think she understands that golf is her main sport. But I really preach athletic ability to be able to launch the ball over 200 yards. And I think playing other sports reduces over-use injuries that you see in some kids who only play golf.”
Beber-Frankel’s twin sister, Phoebe, is another talented young golfer. At 5-1 1/2 and 80 pounds, the Ransom sixth-grader shot a 78 at this year’s Youth Fair, finishing fifth.
David Frankel, who is Jake and Phoebe’s father, said his kids have left him in the dust when it comes to golf.
“It’s incredible,” said David, a filmmaker and the brother of HBO Real Sports reporter John Frankel. “I played against Jake [recently] at Biltmore, and he crushed it. Phoebe is taller than Jake and hitting it almost as far.
“There comes a time when Dad should stop playing and become their caddy full time.”
Jake said his older teammates tease him at times, but all in good fun.
“Coming back from [a tournament] in Orlando, we got to a rest stop,” Jake said. “[My teammates] said, look, Jake, go to the kids’ play area.”
Ultimately, though, Jake, Phoebe, Leo and Tanya have been getting the last laugh, and Echeverria, the Coral Reef coach, believes more athletic young golfers are on the way
“It’s ‘The Tiger [Woods] Effect’,” he said. “In the old days, golfers were looked at as nonathletic. But now, it’s changed, and a lot more kids get involved at earlier ages.
“The game has more flash — it’s cool now for kids. And it’s much more accessible to average-income families.”