Marge Johnson fondly remembers taking her grandson Connor Brown out golfing at White Bear Yacht Club (WBYC) when he was just 4 or 5 years old, and him dragging his little clubs behind him.
“Never was I thinking that there would be a day,” she smiled, “when I’d be taking his daughter out golfing, at the same age — and soon she’d be beating all of us!”
But that’s the case, as Elayna Brown, her great-granddaughter, is an 8-year-old golfing marvel.
The long-limbed third grader recently placed second in the Texas Open, shooting 37-42-79 to finish one stroke behind a girl from Los Angeles. Brown has been Minnesota Player of the Year in her age group the last two summers.
Late each summer, her dad, Connor, takes her to a world meet at Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Elayna has placed 17th, seventh and 13th the last three years. They’ll be back there July 27-29 and will compete in other world events in California and Florida in the fall.
“The only reason she’s not winning these tournaments is because she lives in Minnesota,” declared Connor. “A lot of those girls live where they can play year-round.”
Elayna, whom we visited with her dad, step-mom, grandmother and Marge, in the house down the shore from WBYC where Connor grew up,
is a pleasant child who, by all accounts, takes it all in stride.
“I just love to play. It’s fun,” she said. Asked if she watches golf on TV or has a favorite player, she shook her head, “No, not really.” Connor said the family leaves golf at the course and doesn’t talk about it much at home. Elayna has another athletic pursuit; she enjoys ballet, and is a member of a studio.
Assessing her game, Connor said: “Elayna can make all the shots. She drives about 150, 160 yards. She never gets nervous. If she has to go over water or a bunker, she’s fearless. If she makes a bad shot, she just moves on to the next hole. She is just having fun.”
Height is a plus for Elayna, Marge noted. “She’s always a head taller than the other girls. She will be tall.”
Marge, a matriarch in the White Bear Lake family that operated White Bear Boat Works for a century, has been a member of WBYC
for 43 years, along with a club in Naples, Florida. She was one of the club’s top women players for many years and won the Commodore’s Cup. She recently shot her age, 81, at WBYC.
She’s thrilled to see her love for golf rekindled three generations later in Elayna, whom her friends also dote on and follow. “And, yes, she can beat me now,” said Marge, not complaining. Marge said she bet a friend of hers who’s been a club champion that Elayna could beat her. The match was held. Marge won the bet. “I told Elayna, and she wanted the $10,” Marge chuckled. “I gave it to her.”
Most of Elayna’s time on the links is spent with Connor, who gently coaches her with repetition and fundamentals in mind, to develop the “muscle memory” that champions need. Connor was mainly a tennis player himself, helping Mounds Park Academy win two state team championships and placing state runner-up in doubles. But he enjoys golf, too, and enjoys analyzing sports.
Connor said he first realized Elayna could be something special when she was in kindergarten and could chip smoothly to the cup. Marge said that for her, it was watching Elayna’s cool control in driving the ball, not “swinging from the heels” like most beginners.
Elayna’s love for the game is such, Marge relates, that she is always eager to give tips to others, including Marge’s friends. Marge herself got a valuable tip once during a tournament when she was struggling with a bunker shot. A little voice rang out, “Marge! Use the bounce!” Elayna was reminding her to use the rounded bottom of the club that helps lift the ball from the sand. Marge said her bunker shots have improved ever since.
The Browns live in Roseville and spend a lot of time at WBYC. Connor, asked if he might move south or west at some point so Elayna can play all year, said that is “a possibility, if an opportunity presents itself.” Elayna herself isn’t thinking whether her future includes college or pro golf. She’s just being an 8-year-old (9, next month). Raise the subject, and she shrugs, “We’ll just have to see how good I am then.”