Ethan Farnam began hitting golf balls before he could say "golf."
An uncle sent him plastic clubs for his first birthday, and Farnam sought to wear them out almost immediately. His father, Kurt, noticed that Ethan instinctively used the proper grip.
"We had him on the range before his second birthday," recalled his mother, Lisa. "He'd cry when we made him leave."
So maybe instead of marveling over the fact Farnam qualified for the U.S. Amateur Championship at 16, we should be asking: What took you so long?
Here's your answer: Not long ago, Farnam had the height of a female gymnast. The rising (literally) junior at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake now stands 5-foot-10 after sprouting 9 inches in the last year.
"Last year if I hit one out there 250 (yards), it would be a bomb for me," Ethan said. "So big tournaments were a struggle. Now I can fly it 285 to 290."
So some people walking alongside the fairways this week at Olympia Fields might not recognize him. But they surely will recognize his sweet, lefty swing.
"It has always been very sound," said his instructor, Casey Brozek, the head professional at Crystal Lake Country Club. "He's smart on the golf course and very driven. The challenge is to be cognizant and understanding of that growth, whether it's managing the swing or from the club-fitting standpoint."
The 150-pound Farnam remains thinner than the blade of a 2-iron, despite a diet Brozek describes as "eat anything you want as often as you can."
Farnam feasted last month in U.S. Amateur qualifying at The Grove Country Club in Long Grove. After an opening 70 and a snap hook to open the second round, he played what he called "the best 17 holes of my whole life, knowing what was on the line."
Despite opening with a double bogey, he carded a 6-under 66 that landed him in the field of 312.
Farnam will be among the youngest but is two years clear of Ricky Castillo, who was born on Feb. 19, 2001, and qualified in Yorba Linda, Calif.
Several other players too young to buy a beer have interesting storylines:
•Sydney Chung, 20, was born in Olympia Fields but grew up in Tennessee and now plays at the University of Memphis. His caddie, Brandon Rowland, is a double amputee who lost his legs when he was 7. He has been approved to use a cart.
•Will Grimmer, now 18, was the youngest competitor at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. The Cincinnati resident carded an 11-under 59 in the 2013 North & South Junior.
•Houston's Cole Hammer became the third-youngest player to compete in the U.S. Open when he qualified for this year's event at Chambers Bay at 15. He shot 77-84.
•Nick Hardy, 19, not only made the cut at Chambers Bay, but also shot a 68 on Sunday to tie for 52nd. The rising sophomore at Illinois grew up in Northbrook and will be playing in his third U.S. Amateur.
•Californian Beau Hossler will be competing in his 11th USGA championship, and he's only 20. The rising junior at Texas tied for 29th at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club three months after turning 17.
This championship is so interesting because, in addition to the college stars and future pros, it also contains players such as Mack Foster. He's a 31-year-old seed salesman (corn, soybean, sunflower and wheat) from Knoxville, Ill., who has undergone two back surgeries.
Todd Mitchell, 37, of Bloomington, Ill., will be playing in his 21st USGA championship. Rather than play college golf, Mitchell played two seasons in the Yankees' minor-league system.
The top 64 players after two rounds of stroke play advance to match play, less than one-fifth of the field. So the odds are stacked against Farnam, whose last tournament performance yielded rounds of 77-74-74 at the Junior PGA Championship in Bryan, Texas.
"The discussions we've had are that it is a level playing field," Brozek said. "Everyone who qualified deserves to be there. It will be the biggest tournament he has played, but we don't want him to feel that way. Go in like it's any other tournament."
U.S. Amateur Championship
What: America's oldest golf championship features a field of 312 players ranging in age from 14 to 62, with 23 countries represented. The USGA accepted 7,047 entries before sectional qualifying.
Where: Olympia Fields Country Club. Both the South (7,037 yards) and North (7,234) courses will be used for stroke-play qualifying. The North will host match play.
When: Stroke play is Monday and Tuesday beginning at 7 a.m. The low 64 advance to match play, which begins Wednesday. The second and third rounds are Thursday, quarterfinals Friday, semifinals Saturday and 36-hole championship match Sunday.
What's at stake: The winner receives a 10-year exemption into future U.S. Amateurs, a spot in the 2016 U.S. and British opens and a likely spot in the 2016 Masters.
Notable winners: Arnold Palmer (1954), Jack Nicklaus (1959, '61), Lanny Wadkins (1970), Craig Stadler (1973), Hal Sutton (1980), Phil Mickelson (1990), Tiger Woods (1994, '95, '96), Matt Kuchar (1997).
Last year: Gunn Yang, 20, of South Korea, won at Atlanta Athletic Club. Yang is in the field again this year.
USGA championships at Olympia Fields: 1928 U.S. Open, 1997 U.S. Senior Open, 2003 U.S. Open, 2011 U.S. Girls' Junior.
TV: Wednesday-Friday, 2-5 p.m., Fox Sports 1; Saturday-Sunday, 2-5 p.m., FOX-32.
More information: usamateur.org.