When the Symetra Tour a.k.a. the “Road to the LPGA” begins with the SKYiGOLF Championship at Charlotte Harbor National Golf Club on Thursday, one of the game’s next stars could be in attendance.
Though she won’t be playing in the event, 12-year-old Hayli Snaer will be sure to soak up as much of the atmosphere as she can — as she works toward making it there one day herself.
Snaer, who first fell in love with golf when she was about 4 or 5, is already making a name for herself in the game of junior golf.
Right away, it was evident that she had a gift for the game of golf, and she’s seized the opportunity — with goals of one day playing golf for Duke University and becoming a professional.
“When she was 4, we put tees in the ground to show her the basics of how you stand and the basic motion,” said Hayli’s father, Chris Snaer. “She hit half of them pretty well. That’s when we knew she had some hand-eye coordination.
“It wasn’t until she was 6 when we joined First Tee and the U.S. LPGA Girls program. That’s when an LPGA coach came to us and asked, ‘Hey, how did you teach her to swing so fast? And I was like, ‘I didn’t.’
After competing in the local tour — and winning it — up in New England at age 8, Snaer has been winning ever since.
Along with playing in the past three U.S. Kids World Golf Championships at Pinehurst, she has also won some individual tournaments as well.
For Snaer, her win at the Carolinas Invitational two years ago is the one that sticks out most in her mind. At just 10 years old, she won the tournament by shooting a 73 and a 79 — the first time she had stayed in the 70s for both scoring rounds.
“It feels really good because I’ve been working really hard on it,” she said. “Just knowing that I can win a tournament, that’s a really good feeling.”
It’s been a whirlwind of golf adventures since, as Snaer has had the opportunity to play famous golf courses all around the U.S. and even compete in the U.S. Kids European Championship, which took her all the way out to Scotland.
Since she first started swinging a foam club in the living room of her parents’ New Hampshire home roughly nine years ago, Snaer has fallen in love with golf.
Most of her days after school are spent either at the Plantation Golf & Country Club — where she can be found practicing at the range, playing a few holes or working on her strength and conditioning in the workout facilities.
Some days, she could hit up to 300 balls on the driving range and be ready for more.
“I would say that her practice regimen and her tenacity to get better is something you don’t see with most players,” said Sean Martin, Plantation Director of Golf and Snaer’s instructor. “When you teach, there’s lots of lessons where you go over the same things over and over. And it’s like OK, you’re obviously not doing any homework. We’re not improving quickly.
“For her, if I tell her to do something, within the next week or two she’ll have it. She can make changes to her game. I have video of when we first started five or six months ago and the transformation is just phenomenal.”
When she’s not working on her craft, she also likes to watch the sport, rooting for pros like Tiger Woods, Jordan Speith, and her favorite LPGA Tour player, Lexi Thompson.
But it’s not all about golf for the 12-year-old phenom.
Some days, she can be found at the Attitudes in Dance studio in Venice or playing around with design and fashion — her other passion.
However, while she has interests outside of golf, it’s clear to see that golf holds the throne in her list of priorities. Her parents, Chris and Juli, recognize it, too.
So, that’s much of what led the Snaers to pack up and move from New Hampshire to Venice last July so that Hayli could play the sport year-round — rather than practicing in heated barns and indoor studios during the winter.
“I can play golf all year long here,” said Hayli, when asked what she likes most about Florida. “If I was up north, everything would be covered in snow right now. I just think this will give me a better opportunity to make my dreams happen.”
Since moving to Venice last summer, Snaer has competed in three tournaments on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour — winning once and finishing second twice.
Following that Florida debut, Snaer has since taken a break from tournaments so she can have time to work on her swing. Already at 12, she’s hitting the ball well over 200 yards and averaging about a 75 on a typical day out at Plantation.
On Saturday, Snaer will see how she’s grown as she gets back into the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour with the Tampa Bay Junior Open at Heritage Isles Golf and Country Club.
But with such big goals ahead of her, this tournament is likely just another stepping stone in the path of Snaer’s golf career.
“She has that drive,” Martin said. “I’ve worked with juniors before that I’ve seen where their dive peters out or they feel pushed by their parents, so it becomes a chore.
“But she really wants it. I see the frustration level she has with herself. She puts a lot of pressure on herself. She’s already achieved some things that are outside of the norm for her age. So it won’t take long, if she competes well in high school, to get some college looks early.”