The Story Behind Junior Golfer: Tavia Burgess

Tavia Burgess wasn’t feeling well the day before the Optimist qualifier, a First Tee – Greater Sacramento Junior Tour event.

Her mother, Irene Burgess, said she was thinking about pulling Tavia out of the event, scheduled for May 15 at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, due to food poisoning.

“We did not even expect anything because she was sick,” Irene Burgess said. “She was throwing up, 7-8 times through the night.”

Tavia, 15, was finally able to get some rest, sleeping for about four hours. When she woke up, her mind was on golf and making sure to get to the Alister MacKenzie Golf Course for her starting time.

“It was pretty rough, honestly. I was throwing up,” Tavia Burgess recalled. “But when I woke up, it wasn’t like I was exhausted. I was OK. So I just went for it anyway.

“I wasn’t expecting much. But things happen, I guess.”

She overcame a rocky start, with three bogeys on her front nine, and made four birdies on the back nine to shoot a 1-under-par 71, tying Haley Wong of El Dorado Hills for first place after regulation play in the girls 15-18 division. They finished one stroke in front of Brenna Preap (72), Nikki Chindavong (72), and Alaythia Hinds (72), who each tied for third place. Amelia Greenlee (73) was sixth.

“I remember I was doing pretty well,” Tavia said.

Burgess won the title on the first hole of a sudden-death playoff with Wong, a junior at Oak Ridge High School when she made birdie after hitting a wedge shot to 10 feet.

“She wanted to go. She wanted to play,” Irene Burgess said of her daughter. “She had nothing in her stomach. She didn’t want to eat anything. I said, ‘I’ll follow you. But if you’re sick, I’m going to pull you out.’ She was on fire on the back nine. She ended up getting the first place.”

Tavia, who is a sophomore at Granite Bay High School, advanced from the qualifier to the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship – “one of the largest and best-known junior golf tournaments in the world,” according to its website,

“Each year, more than 600 golfers participate in THE OPTIMIST. Optimists have been involved in the sport of junior golf for more than 30 years by holding local, regional, and international tournaments.

“More than 5,000 golfers compete in official Optimist District qualifying tournaments. The best of these golfers, along with international golfers from around the globe, advance to the annual Optimist International Junior Golf Championships. Former champions and top finishers of the Optimist International Junior Golf Championships include Lexi Thompson, Beth Bauer, Jonathan Byrd, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Brittany Lincicome, Jeff Overton, Stacy Prammanasudh and Jennifer Rosales.” It was Tavia’s first time to fly on an airline, as she and her mom traveled to the Doral Resort and Spa in Miami, Florida, in July. Players from 23 countries were in the field.

“Overall, this was a really great experience,” said Irene Burgess. “I was very impressed. I was very happy for her. I’m very proud. Some of these girls had already been there before. It was a different environment – tough course, longer yardages, different greens.

“It was a good opportunity for her to go there and be with international-level players. She had a great time. Hopefully, she will make it again.” Playing in the Girls 15-18 Division, Tavia Burgess, a resident of Mather, finished 25th in the event. She had rounds of 73, 82, and 78 for a 233 total.

There were 90 players in the girls’ 15-18 Division.

“She made some new friends and had some great experiences and we are hopeful she can qualify again next year,” said Teddy Burgess, Tavia’s father.

Maria Jose Marin Negrete of Cali, Colombia, won the division title, shooting 72-63-72 – 207.

Nikki Chindavong of Fairfield was 13th. Chindavong, a member of First Tee – Greater Sacramento and a junior in Rodriguez High School’s early college program, shot 79-75-75 – 229.

For Tavia Burgess, it was a great experience – testing herself and her game in an elite field of top juniors.

Tavia Burgess of Mather is shown with Doris Yates’ daughter and her husband, Linda and John Rowland.

“It was pretty fun,” she said. “I wasn’t really swinging that great. I learned that I have a long way to go. But I still have a shot at doing well if I just keep my mind straight in practice.”

Tavia plays out of WildHawk Golf Club in Sacramento. She works with Phil Dawson, her swing coach and a PGA teaching professional, who is at Catta Verdera Country Club in Lincoln. She also works with Sarah Glenn, her short game and mental coach. Glynn is an LPGA professional in Cameron Park.

Tavia also works with Greg Johnson for strength and flexibility training.

“When I was younger, I never used to enjoy practicing. I like to play in competitions and it was always fun to win. But when I was 12, I realized that you need to start practicing because you can only really get better if you practice,” Tavia said.

In order to make her trip possible to the Optimist International Junior Golf Championship, Tavia received support from Morton Golf Foundation and its Junior Golf Development Grant, First Tee – Greater Sacramento, and the Doris Yates Foundation. Yates, who passed away on May 13, 2021, was an avid golfer in the Sacramento area. Through her estate, funds were made available to help assist a junior golfer.

“It’s a big help. We appreciate that,” said Irene Burgess.

Tavia met recently with Doris Yates’ daughter and her husband, Linda and John Rowland.

“They were really nice,” said Tavia. “I’m really grateful to be able to be sponsored by Morton and Doris Yates. It’s pretty nice. It really helps.”

Tavia has been a Morton Golf Foundation Junior Golf Development Grant recipient for the last few years.

“We are extremely grateful to the Mortons and all who help with that effort. It has helped us with coaching and equipment, but has also freed up resources for more events,” said Teddy Burgess.

Junior golf background

Tavia started out in tournament golf with U.S. Kids Golf and has been playing competitive golf since she was 7.

She placed second in a U.S. Kids Golf event at the age of 7.

“She was ecstatic,” said Teddy Burgess.

She went to Sutter Middle School, which has a golf team, in Sacramento.

She has been a member of First Tee – Greater Sacramento since the age of 12. She was named as the First Tee – Greater Sacramento 2020 co-Player of the Year for girls overall 12-14.

She not only plays in First Tee – Greater Sacramento Junior Tour events, but also Junior Tour of Northern California, Junior Golf Association of Northern California and Sacramento Golf Council events, and also U.S. Golf Association qualifiers. She will play in the State Fair Junior, a JGANC event, on Aug. 28 at Haggin Oaks. She also plays on the Granite Bay High girls golf team.

“She’s a very competitive golfer,” Irene Burgess said. “Mentally, she is tough and she’s getting better each year. She is winning. She likes to compete and she likes to practice and work on her game.

“She is very dedicated and disciplined. She gets good grades. She really keeps up with her school work.”

In addition to golf, Tavia plays the flute and piano. She takes physics, physiology, AP European history, honors English 10, and P.E.

“She is multi-talented,” Irene said. “She likes golf the best. Because of golf, you have to spend so much time after school with practice.”

Tavia has had a very good year of junior golf with the First Tee – Greater Sacramento Junior Tour. It’s a year-round competitive golf tournament program for boys and girls, ages 12-18, and juniors are able to play and compete on over 24 different area golf courses, according to The tournament season begins in March and goes through November. First Tee – Greater Sacramento Junior Tour allows juniors to play until their 19th birthday, or their first day of college; whichever comes first, according to

“Ask anyone that knows Tavia’s game and they will tell you without a doubt that she has the best short game out there amongst her competitors and putting is really her strength. I have played over the years with many great players and I have seen her make putts that make them sit there with their jaws on the ground,” said Teddy Burgess.

A look at some of Tavia’s top finishes this year in the girls 15-18 division:

  • April 11: Tied for first, Morgan Creek Golf Club Junior Tournament, Roseville; 2-over-par 74.
  • April 18: Fifth place, Auburn Valley Golf Club Junior Tournament, Auburn; 7-over-par 79.
  • June 7: Tied for third, Valley Hi Country Club, Elk Grove; 6-over-par 78.
  • June 9: First place, Mather Golf Course Junior Tournament, Mather; even-par 72.
  • July 19: Tied for first, Bill Demas Memorial at Del Paso Country Club, Sacramento; 2-under-par 69.
  • August 2: Fifth place, Bill Dougherty Memorial at Yolo Fliers Golf Club, Woodland; 6-over-par 78.
  • August 14: Fifth place, Bartley Cavanaugh Golf Course Junior Tournament, Sacramento; 4-over-par 75.

This year, she has eight Top-10 finishes in 15 events.

“Obviously, I want to win all the time, but you just have to worry about getting better,” Tavia said. “I do feel like I’m getting better. I just need to work on my swing.” Tavia tied for first place with Christine Yu of Folsom in the girls 14-15 division of the 85th annual Peggy Dodds Sacramento City Junior Golf Championship, a JGANC premier event, in July. She shot 74-72 – 146 at the Haggin Oaks-MacKenzie Course.

She placed in three JTNC events this year.

She tied for third in March at the Spring Series II Championship at Paso Robles Golf Club. She shot 77-74 – 151.

She finished second at the Spring Series VIII event at Rooster Run Golf Club in Petaluma in May. She shot 75-70 – 145.

She tied for 26th in June at the Summer Series I event at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton. She shot 78-82 – 160.

Tavia played in a U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship qualifying on June 15 at The Reserve at Spanos Park. She did not advance after carding a 77.

She has been to two Regional events for the Drive, Chip, and Putt – one at The Olympic Club in San Francisco and one at Chambers Bay in Washington.

* Marty James is a freelance writer who makes his home in Napa. He retired on June 4, 2019, after spending 40 years as a sports writer, sports editor, and executive sports editor for the Napa Valley Register, a daily newspaper in Napa County. He is a 1979 graduate of Sacramento State and a member of the California Golf Writers & Broadcasters Association. He was inducted into the CIF Sac-Joaquin Section Hall of Fame in 2016.

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