Winning an international golf tournament is one thing. Winning every competitive event during the entire tournament week is another. Doing it all at 12 years old is downright incredible.
One year ago, Lake Mary golf prodigy Karoline Tuttle finished in a tie for 14th place at the U.S. Kids Golf World Championship. She vowed to do better the next year, but what Karoline actually did at the 2016 Championship tournament was something no one could predict.
Karoline, who turned 13 in September, not only won the World Championship for her age group, she also won all the other top awards at the event, which was played at the storied Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina.
“We were told that no one had ever won all five awards at the World Championship,” says Karoline’s proud mother, Nikki Tuttle. “We were dumbfounded.”
In addition to winning the world title, Karoline partnered with her father and coach, Ken Tuttle, to win the Parent/Child Tournament on the first day of the event. She then partnered with Kynadie Adams of Tennessee to win the World Championship Team Challenge on the second day. After one day of practice, Karoline shot rounds of 72-74-69 for a 215 total to win the World Championship by one stroke over Mexico’s Alejandra Ferrer, in a tournament that featured 132 of the world’s best 12-year-old girl golfers.
Karoline’s phenomenal week continued on the event’s final day, when she led the United States to victory in the U.S. Kids World Van Horn Cup (a team event fashioned after pro golf’s Ryder Cup) and also was awarded the Silver Cup as the individual with the lowest score (68) in that event.
“I really wanted to win this year,” says Karoline, a 5-foot-6 seventh grader. “I was 14th the year before, and I was disappointed with that. So, I was just hoping to put up good scores this year. When I won, it felt awesome. It was a pretty cool experience.”
The future will likely hold many more awesome experiences for Karoline, who also happens to be an Honor Roll student, a volunteer in the community, and an overall great kid.
“She gets comments like, ‘She’s such a fine young lady,’ and that’s the best compliment a parent can get,” Nikki says. “I’m excited and proud because she works so hard at it, she has true desire, and she’s definitely talented. But she’s also a good girl.”
Ken took notice of his daughter’s talent at a young age. While Karoline’s twin brother Karter excelled at sports like soccer, Karoline found her niche in activities that required good hand-eye coordination.
“We started playing [golf] in the driveway when she was six years old, and I could tell that she had it,” says Ken, a lifelong competitive golfer who played baseball at Lake Howell High School in the 1980s. “I don’t think I ever envisioned her winning world titles, but I knew she had potential.”
“Everything she tried, she did well,” Nikki adds. “She did soccer, cheerleading, ballet, tap, and tennis. Our rule has always been, ‘One thing at a time,’ but after each different sport, she said, ‘Can I try this? Can I try that?’ And we’d say, ‘Of course,’ because you want them to find what they like. But we never pushed her; we just let it all happen.”
Once Karoline started playing golf, she wanted to play every day as soon as she got home from school. Now a middle schooler at Annunciation Catholic Academy in Altamonte Springs, Karoline continues to practice three hours a day with her dad after school at The Legacy Club at Alaqua Lakes. She does take private lessons from a teaching pro twice a month in Orlando, but her parents have intentionally avoided sending Karoline off to a private golf academy, as is the case with many young golf prodigies.
“We knew we didn’t want to go down that route,” Ken says. “But we are competing against kids who are going to these academies – kids who are hitting golf balls instead of going to school from eight to three o’clock. We’re kind of going against the grain, but we believe in quality versus quantity.”
And that’s perfectly fine with Karoline. “I like being a normal kid,” she says.
Since playing in her first local tournament in May, 2013, at age nine, Karoline has posted 26 first-place finishes. She has also won state titles in Florida and Georgia and was named Player of the Year in 2014 and 2015 on the local circuit.
One of Karoline’s proudest accomplishments, prior to her amazing run at the World Championship, was when she won a local tour event with a 25-foot putt, in the dark, this past March – just one month after her beloved grandfather, Andrew Vavreck, passed away at age 82.
“It was like divine intervention,” Nikki says. “Her grandpa was her biggest cheerleader.”
Karoline most certainly will be making her grandpa proud in the years to come. Nicknamed “Little Lexi” because of her resemblance in looks and talent to professional golfer Lexi Thompson (also a Floridian, who turned pro at age 15), Karoline hopes her success continues on the Florida Junior Tour (for 13-to-15 year olds) this year. She already has two top-three finishes to her credit, at FJT events in Ocala and Venice.
Also, in 2017, she plans to compete in some American Junior Golf Association events. The AJGA is considered the premier junior golf association in the world and is a stepping-stone for young golfers, ages 12 to 18, who are looking to earn college scholarships.
When she is not playing golf, Karoline enjoys giving back to her community. She has volunteered and participated in the annual One Hope United Golf Tournament, the annual Hope for Angels Golf Tournament, and the Seminole-Wekiva Trail Clean-up efforts, among other charitable causes.
Down the road, Karoline looks forward to making Lake Mary High School’s golf team in a couple of years, winning a few more events, and earning a scholarship to a top college. Playing on the LPGA Tour would be her ultimate dream.
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“I love playing golf,” Karoline says. “If I didn’t have golf, I don’t know what I’d be doing.”