LA junior golfer represents strides as women's participation on-course sees meaningful increase

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LOS ANGELES -- At age six, Sophia Martinez's mother introduced her to golf, a sport that evoked a sense of independence even at a young age.

"[My mother's] been playing golf with her dad ever since she was little. Then she brought me in. I loved it very much," said Martinez, a native of Whittier in Los Angeles County, California.

In Martinez's lifetime, the share of women and girls on the golf course has significantly increased.

According to the National Golf Foundation, in 2021, women accounted for 25% of players on the course, with participation increasing by 6% over the past five years.

Meanwhile, junior golfers like Sophia now make up 36% of the women and girls golfer population. She plays with the Southern California Golf Association (SCGA)'s juniors program, which aims to make golf accessible to all children and teens.

"We have over 500 kids registered just in the [Southeast Los Angeles] community -- that's huge," said senior golf instructor Teresa Thornton, who became a years-long mentor to Sophia. "It's been absolutely amazing watching Sophia grow up on the golf course, developing from a beginner to being an actual mentor with some of my girls' classes."

Recently, Martinez competed with the record-breaking girls golf team at California High School when it finished its season undefeated and won a California Interscholastic Federation championship game.

"That honestly felt so surreal. When I went into the gym and looked at all the banners ... I saw our year, and I'm like, 'Oh my goodness, I'm gonna be remembered at the school forever,'" she said.

Martinez is multiracial with Mexican, Filipino and Japanese roots. She said her role models include golf professionals Lizette Salas and Michelle Wie West, who she feels best represent her.

"[They] give me an example or a pathway of what I really could be," she said.

SEE ALSO: What is Title IX?
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Title IX, the landmark civil rights law that prohibits sex-based discrimination at educational institutions that receive money from the United States Department of Education, turns 50 this June.



Though women in sports have made strides since the passage of Title IX 50 years ago, Martinez said she's aware of lingering gaps in representation. She recalled noticing this while watching the LPGA tournament with her family.

"They kept cutting into the men's PGA tournament, and there was no equal footage," she said. "They completely cut off the LPGA ... They're portrayed as the more inferior gender. They don't have a lot of representation in society."

Martinez's parents said SCGA helps make golf accessible to women, particularly women of color.

"Hopefully Sophia might open doors for some more women of color," said her father, Miguel Martinez.

For Sophia Martinez, unity among women is instrumental.

"You see all the struggles they go through, all the sense of inequality," she said. "That inspires movements and reform, and I think it's really beautiful."

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