Adoption leads 10-year-old Autumn Solesbee to golf fascination
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Drive, Chip and Putt winner visits Valspar Championship, meets Jordan Spieth
Written by Kevin Prise @PGATOURKevin
PALM HARBOR, Fla. – It’s a serene Thursday afternoon outside Tampa, and 10-year-old Autumn Solesbee approaches Jordan Spieth to say hello. She’s admittedly nervous, well aware of the Texas Longhorn’s stature in the game – “he’s won three majors” – and doesn’t want to impact his mojo after an opening-round, 4-under 67 at the Valspar Championship.
Spieth has learned that Solesbee has just taken her first flight, traveling from Charlotte to Tampa with her parents to watch Spieth compete at the Valspar. He’s eager to say hello, as well.
“How’s your game?” Spieth asks.
“Good,” Solesbee replies with a smile. “I’ve played two golf tournaments (this year), and I’ve won both of them.”
“That’s pretty hard to beat,” Spieth grins.
Solesbee is a promising junior golfer – she won the Girls 7-9 age division at last year’s Drive, Chip and Putt at Augusta National – and she has big aspirations: playing on the LPGA, one day even becoming the first woman to compete at the Masters.
But Solesbee’s narrative extends far beyond the game of golf. It’s a love story between Autumn and her parents, Donnie and Jamie, who adopted her less than four years ago.
The day is recalled with ease: October 11, 2019. It’s the first day that Solesbee met her parents. She knew instantly that it was meant to be, despite being “very shy” to meet them – at their first visit, she kept a stuffed animal close by.
Solesbee’s foster home had three dogs, and she remembers Donnie using an app to take a video of a dog – “and did a funny thing that let the dog talk.” The nerves went away, replaced with a sense of comfort.
“I started to fall in love with dogs,” Solesbee said, “and I really wanted to go there because he was funny and my mom was very loving. And I just loved them.”
“We started doing weekend visits with her; every single weekend, we would go visit her,” Donnie remembered. “The day before Thanksgiving 2019, she moved in with us. And from that time forward, she was our daughter.”
Donnie and Jamie were unable to have a child of their own, but they wanted to become parents. So they pursued adoption, working in conjunction with the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina. After six or so months of classes, they received their foster care and adoption license. The timing for certification was “amazing,” as Donnie put it. Shortly after receiving their certification, the Solesbees received an email from their social worker about a girl who had just turned 7 years old. That girl’s name was Autumn.
“We immediately sent back an email,” Donnie said, “that said, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes.’”
Solesbee’s golf fascination was founded in happenstance. Donnie’s dad lives in Greenville, South Carolina, and the family decided on a trip to a nearby Topgolf for Solesbee to meet her grandpa for the first time.
Solesbee knew about most sports, but not golf. It didn’t take long, though, to become hooked. Donnie brought a single club – a U.S. Kids Golf wedge with an oversized head. Solesbee swung it, then swung it again. Even though it took a few tries to make contact, the bug was instinctive.
(While enjoying the action off No. 1 fairway Thursday at Innisbrook Resort’s Copperhead Course, Solesbee reminisced on her early swings from that maiden Topgolf adventure, smiling as she pantomimed missing the ball.)
The plan was to hit balls for a half hour, have lunch and depart. After lunch, though, Solesbee wasn’t ready to leave.
“I wanted to hit more golf shots,” Solesbee laughed. “A lot more.”
She has certainly hit many more. Solesbee has progressed to the point of practicing consistently and playing competitively, her skills on full display at last year’s Drive, Chip and Putt national competition at Augusta National.
As she was announced as winner of her division, Autumn turned to Donnie for a hearty embrace.
“I’m so excited,” Autumn said in her winner’s interview at Augusta. “I was crying back there.”
“I’m so proud of you,” Donnie told her.
Bringing things full circle from the first Topgolf trip: Donnie’s dad introduced him to golf at age 10, and the game served as a bonding vehicle between the two, as it now does for the family’s next generation.
“Just the fact that she loved something that was important to my dad and me growing up … my dad, her grandpa, just loves watching her play golf,” Donnie said. “It’s like his favorite thing in the world.
“It also teaches her a lot about life. Golf is a great sport; she’s very competitive by nature, so she doesn’t like when it’s not a good shot or not a good hole. It’s a great life lesson in how to overcome adversity and still get up and go the next day.”
In addition to the Longhorn’s competitive success, playing style and flair, Solesbee offered one additional reason for her Spieth fandom.
“He’s cute,” she said with a smile.
From there, it was off to watch some more action at the Valspar.
Kevin Prise is an associate editor for the PGA TOUR. He is on a lifelong quest to break 80 on a course that exceeds 6,000 yards and to see the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Follow Kevin Prise on Twitter.