Neely Adler

Neely Adler, 9, will play golf for the second time in the Cornhusker State Games starting Saturday. The youngest competitor in the sport at the Games, she took up golf with a set of pink clubs when she was 3.

FRANCIS GARDLER/Lincoln Journal Star

Golf was all fun and games for Neely Adler until she started hitting the ball over the fence in her backyard.

It was the start of something special.

Neely, a 9-year-old who will be a fourth-grader at Faith Lutheran in Lincoln this fall, is a six-year veteran of golf, if you can believe that. Her parents, Will and Michelle, bought her a scaled-down set of golf clubs when she was 3. The clubs were pink.

“I had a putter, a driver and a 9-iron,” Neely said.

Will Adler had played golf since he was a teen and thought it was cute to watch Neely hit the ball up against their wooden fence in the backyard with her pink clubs.

When she was 5, Neely started to hit the ball over the fence.

“One time, I hit the neighbor’s house,” Neely said.

That’s when Will Adler decided he’d better start taking Neely to a driving range instead.

So Will and 5-year-old Neely showed up on the driving range at Pioneers and she started belting the ball farther than golfers twice her size.

“A lot of people just looked at her like they didn’t think she could hit the ball,” Will said. “But she hit the ball quite a ways. I heard some people say, ‘I wish I had a swing like hers.’”

That put an idea into Will’s head.

“When I was 13, my grandma enrolled me in a two-week golf instruction course, and I really liked it,” he said. “She got a membership at the Chadron Country Club and I started playing. I’ve played ever since. I thought that if Neely could start earlier than I did, she would have a lot better chance at making it.”

Neely has long since graduated from her pink set of clubs and is on her third full set. Last year as an 8-year-old, Neely entered the competition at the Cornhusker State Games in the 13-and-under division. She placed second to a middle-schooler. This year, Neely again is the youngest competitor in golf at the Games. The Opening Ceremonies are Friday and the youth golf competition will take place Saturday and Sunday.

Neely doesn’t remember her first real round of golf, which her father says she played at Jim Ager Memorial Golf Course when she was 5. Jim Ager is a junior golf course with holes ranging from 104 to 175 yards, and Neely still likes playing there.

Neely’s first tournament was the Little Junior Amateur in Omaha when she was 6.

“I signed her up for that one so I could caddy for her,” Will said. “The biggest problem was she so small she couldn’t carry the golf bag.”

Of that tournament, Neely remembers that it rained, and that she got a doggy painted on her face and that she won an award for putting.

Neely has been competing in the Nebraska Junior Golf Tour for the past three years. Last year, she won the player of the year for the state’s 7- and 8-year-olds.

Neely takes golf lessons from Wilderness Ridge pros Chris Thomson and Maureen Farrell, but the Adlers are being careful about rushing her into too much too soon.

“We were maybe looking at doing U.S. Kids Golf in Kansas City or other qualifiers,” Will said. “Then we kind of looked at it and thought maybe she needs another year of experience.”

Neely’s favorite part of golf?

“I like that I can hit it far,” she said.

“She likes hitting the greens,” added her father.

Which she does with great regularity.

Reach Sports Editor Darnell Dickson at ddickson@journalstar.com or 402-473-7320.

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Darnell graduated from BYU and covered Cougar football for the Daily Herald in Provo, Utah, before taking over as sports editor of the Journal Star in 2011.

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