Success fits her to tee

Not content to be the first Milford Mill student to reach the state tournament, Devonne Richardson wants to recruit other black players to join her on the links


November 08, 2006|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Sun Reporter

When Milford Mill's Devonne Richardson finished 17th two weeks ago at the state golf championships, she felt she could have done a little better.

Back at school, the sophomore was surprised to learn that her teachers and peers were proud of her accomplishment. After all, she is believed to be the first Miller ever to qualify for the state golf tournament, much less finish in the top 20 in a field of 47.

"At first I didn't really realize how big it was," Richardson said. "Of course, I was a little disappointed in how I shot, but when I got in school the next day, everybody was congratulating me -- they still are -- and that kind of made me feel better."

Richardson has been better known as the point guard for the Millers' girls basketball team that reached the state Class 3A final last season, but she is hoping her success in golf will help grow the sport at Milford Mill.

She has brought some of her friends onto the Millers' team and is trying to recruit new players for next fall, but the job isn't easy.

"The real reason is we're basically a population of blacks, and a lot of those kids think golf isn't a sport for blacks. I don't understand why," said Richardson, who has pictures of Tiger Woods and Fiji native Vijay Singh on her school binder.

"I don't think our golf program is really big, because most of the kids who come to Milford Mill come for football or basketball. They haven't really heard a lot about golf."

Richardson, who was introduced to the game early because her mother worked at the Carroll Park Golf Course, faced the most adversity of her career in the state tournament and shot 183 on a couple of cold, windy days two weeks ago at the University of Maryland golf course in College Park.

She started with a smooth first day, shooting an 86 to finish atop the leader board for girls in Class 2A-1A.

In the finals, things started to go wrong long before Richardson got to the course, where 24 girls in all classifications made the cut to compete for a single title.

Stuck in traffic for 2 1/2 hours, she raced onto the first tee at the last minute. She shot five on her first hole, the par-3 11th. Then she put her next tee shot in the woods and took an eight on the par-4 12th.

She needed about 12 holes to settle down, finishing with a 97.

Milford Mill coach Debbie Stephan said she wasn't bothered by that at all.

"She's done really well, but she's still learning," Stephan said. "She was a little disappointed in her performance, I could tell, but I keep looking at the fact that she doesn't turn 15 until the end of the month. I was pleased as anything."

In addition to qualifying for states, Richardson has plenty of other positives to her credit this season. She finished second in the Baltimore County championship behind Dulaney's Carolyn Chandler after finishing fourth a year ago. She also improved at the district tournament, where last year she missed the cut for the state tournament by one stroke.

"She's dynamic," Stephan said. "She's got a good drive. She's working on her short game. She putted wonderfully in the preliminaries [at states] and then did not putt as well [on the second day]. She has things to work on, but she can hit the ball a mile."

Richardson can drive the ball about 180 yards, estimated Paul Lassiter, her golfing mentor who got her started in the game.

"Mr. Paul started dating my mom when I was about 7," Richardson said, "and he played golf all the time and I thought it was fun, so I started playing."

By age 7, Richardson had already spent time at Carroll Park where her mother, Yvonne Smith, ran the concessions in the clubhouse, and where Lassiter is the assistant manager of the pro shop.

She was invited to join the Carroll Park team at 11 and began to focus a little more on the sport, but that was the same year she started playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball.

Which sport is her favorite?

"I really don't know yet," she said. "I have fun in both. In a team sport, you actually have more fun, but after you're done playing golf and you've done well, you're excited about what you've done."

Richardson likes a lot of other sports, too. Name one and she'll try it.

She has dabbled in everything from flag football to soccer and from lacrosse to BMX racing. Her mother can hardly keep her in the house because she's always outside shooting hoops or playing football with the neighborhood guys.

That natural athleticism, sharpened by so much cross training, has helped her become a pretty good golfer, said Lassiter, even though she doesn't play nearly as much as most competitive teen golfers.

"In the game of golf, everybody's focused on trying to hit the ball farther, but she has very quick hands and it's from all of her athletic endeavors," Lassiter said. "You can see she's very muscular and she's quick through the ball. That's why her long game is what makes the difference."

Richardson aspires to play basketball or golf professionally, but she'll stick with both until she finds out which is more likely to earn her a college scholarship. If that doesn't work out, Richardson, who has a 3.5 grade point average, would like to be a sports agent.

The course gets tougher now as she aims to come back next year and make a stronger run at the state title. She'll work mostly on her putting and the mental game.

"I need to stay focused," Richardson said. "I can see myself doing better than I did this year."

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