PLEASANT HILL -- In the U.S. Kids World Tournament in North Carolina, Pleasant Hill's Madelyn Gamble placed second in a competition among the best 9-year-old girl golfers in the world.
But for Madelyn, competing wouldn't describe what she does on a golf course. She plays. After all, she's 9 years old.
"I just keep a smile on my face," she said. "A lot of kids, they didn't seem like they were having a lot of fun. They seemed like they were so serious. They weren't having fun at all."
Madelyn stayed loose, and it showed. She got better as the pressure mounted. She was in 12th after the first day, third after the second day, and outperformed the other leaders on the third day to finish tied for second. Mimi Chen, of China, finished 5-under par and Madelyn tied Marie Jose Ramirez of Mexico with a 1-over par.
"She played at about her local average," said Madelyn's father, Dan Gamble. "She just played to her capabilities."
In the last 24 U.S. Kids Nor Cal tournaments, Madelyn has placed first 18 times and second six times.
"She's mentally tough and she's positive all the time," he said.
When she's not playing golf, Madelyn likes to ride her bike, swim, play soccer and read books. With so much early success in golf, Madelyn's parents try to limit the pressure on her. Success stories of pro golfers who started at young ages such as Tiger Woods have spurred many parents to start their kids competing and practicing earlier and more often.
"When I was a kid, there weren't kids playing at 9 years old then," said Dan Gamble. "We started at 12, 13."
For Madelyn, she was 3 years old when she picked up some children's golf clubs and started hitting golf balls in the backyard.
"I tried to hit the ball into our play structure with my little set of golf clubs," said Madelyn. "Once I hit it over, we went to the driving range."
Ever since, Madelyn has been eager to play golf as much as possible.
"She tells me that she wants to practice all the time," said Dan Gamble. "Sometimes I have to tell her to take a day off."
Madelyn practices with her coach, Dave Delong, at Boundary Oak Golf Course in Walnut Creek. Delong is a former PGA Tour player.
About three years ago, one of the first things that Delong began to teach her was how to judge the topography of a course and where the ball would roll.
"About a week after that we were getting out of our car and walking up the driveway and Madelyn said 'If I hit a putt here it's going that way,'" recalled Dan Gamble. "You don't know at 6 years old if it's going to stick with them or not."
Even now, her favorite part of golf is putting. She comes up with a plan and then her caddie (her dad) gives her his advice.
"I tell her 'No, go more right or more left,' but she can definitely read it and see what's going on."
Madelyn recently watched a women's amateur tournament and was impressed. It has spurred her desire to learn a new golf skill: shaping the ball.
"They hit high fades to the right and high draws to the left. Now I always try to do that."
With Madelyn so eager to play golf, her dad doesn't have to put any pressure on her to practice hard.
"I always try to have perfect practice," said Madelyn with a big smile. "I don't believe you can play good golf if you are not having a good time and enjoying what you are doing."
Dan Gamble adds: "I just keep reminding myself she's 9 years old. A lot of people say, 'She's going to go pro, she's going to go pro.' We want her to go to college."
Madelyn wants to study at Stanford some day, and knows she'll have to get good grades. She's adapting well to her new school, Christ the King in Pleasant Hill, where she transferred as a fourth-grader.
"We started homework on the first day!" she said. "That's crazy!"