Va. judge bans 10-year-old ‘phenom’ from golf in custody battle

WASHINGTON — A Loudoun County, Virginia, judge has banned a promising 10-year-old golfer from playing tournaments in the next year, as part of a contentious custody battle between her parents.

The girl has been called a “phenom” and “prodigy” by golf professionals who have worked with her over the years, after her father bought her a set of plastic clubs when she was 3 years old.

The girl’s father, Michael Vechery, who also is her coach, told sports website Deadspin she has won 11 of the last 12 tournaments she’s entered in the Mid-Atlantic region.

In 2014, just before she turned 9 years old, she shot a six-under-par 30 in the nine-hole NoVa Fall Tour Championship. Last year, she won the all-ages women’s division in the 2015 club championships for Algonkian Golf Course, in Sterling.

“She’s got a swing that makes you laugh, it’s so perfect,” said Deadspin reporter Dave McKenna.

In June, Circuit Court Judge Jeanette Irby issued a custody and visitation order in the case of Michael Vechery v. Florence Cottet-Moine.

The judge’s ruling included typical pronouncements of where the young girl will spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and summer vacations.

“Amid that is this one stipulation: ‘No competitive golf for a year,'” said McKenna.

Specifically, the judge’s order (which McKenna shared with WTOP) reads:

 Golf: (The daughter) shall not be permitted to play competitive golf for one year. Competitive golf is defined by the court as no tournaments and no lessons with any golf pro with the exception of the Father. The Father and (his daughter) may play no more than one round of golf per week or five hours with putting and practice whichever is greater.

Kris Tschetter, a longtime professional golfer and friend, who has offered advice to the girl on her game,  said she couldn’t believe the judge’s ruling.

“(Judge Irby) is saying you can’t play in a tournament even if you want to,” said Tschetter. “Did anybody ask the child if she wants to play?”

Another golf father, Rick Pano, whose daughter Alexa is the world’s top ranked 11-year-old, and has played with the Loudoun County girl, believes the young girl is being shortchanged by the judge’s ruling.

Pano says his daughter currently plays six hours a day, and feels the Loudoun girl’s game will suffer, being limited to one round of golf per week for the next year.

“For her age bracket worldwide she’s in the top 5 to 10 percent,” Pano told Deadspin. “If she progressed, no doubt in my mind she’s going to go to college for free.”

“For a judge to take that opportunity away from a child, it’s unreal,” he said.

Vechery, the girl’s father, told Deadspin he will appeal the judge’s ruling, but it’s unlikely to have much effect, said McKenna.

“He’s been told it would take seven to 10 months before he got a hearing, so the (one year) ban will have effectively run its course,” McKenna said.

The judge’s reason for imposing the ban is not made clear in her ruling. She declined a request from Deadspin for comment, and has yet to respond to a request from WTOP.

The girl’s mother’s attorney, Jonathan Rochkind, declined comment, since the case is ongoing.

Editor’s Note: In 2005, Michael Vechery, a real estate agent, hosted a paid program on WFED, the sister station of WTOP. 

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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