Arundel High sophomore Lauren Smith credits her father for her love of the game, but her competitive nature is her own

Drive to succeed

Golf

November 15, 2006|By Todd Karpovich | Todd Karpovich,Special to The Sun

Don't let Lauren Smith's petite stature or affable personality fool you.

While she might appear mild-mannered attending class at Arundel High School, she is known as a "pit bull" on the golf course.

Smith, a 5-foot-1, 125-pound sophomore, captured the state championship last month with a score of 149 to beat defending champion Kelly Lynch of Severna Park by three strokes at the University of Maryland Golf Course in College Park.

Smith, 15, trailed Lynch by three strokes on the second day, and said the key was maintaining her composure.

"I was just trying to not let anything get to me," Smith said about the pressure of playing for the state championship. "I knew the greens were aerated, but not in tip-top shape. I also knew that I was not going to make every putt, so I was just trying to hit the fairways and greens."

Smith also won the Anne Arundel County championship. At the district finals, she finished third among boys and girls with a 71 - her best round of the season. Her personal best is a round of 70 shot on the course at Andrews Air Force Base over the summer.

Smith first began playing golf when she was 6. Her father, Joseph Smith, has been in the Air Force for 21 years, and he used to take her along when he played courses near his military bases. He has played golf for more than 20 years and has a 15-handicap, so he was happy to give his daughter a few pointers when she became interested in the game.

"At first, she just sort of rode along in the golf cart with me, but then she decided she wanted to play," Joseph Smith said.

After Lauren Smith further developed her skills when her father was stationed in Guam, she and her family moved in 2001 to Maryland, where she continued to play and take lessons. Over the past year, she played on three junior tours and took second in a qualifier for the USGA junior amateur championship.

Smith credits her exposure from watching her father play as the main reason for her interest in the sport.

"He would go out on the golf course a lot, and I thought it was pretty neat that he took me along," Smith said. "When he took me out, he used to let me putt and use the sand wedge."

By the time she enrolled at Arundel, Smith was already a seasoned player and one of the best junior golfers Wildcats coach Phelps Prescott had seen. Prescott said what separates Smith from other players is that she has a fluid and natural swing along with a "tremendous" short game.

Smith's mental toughness also gives her an edge.

Prescott said Smith never gets flustered by a mistake in a game that can be filled with them. For example, in one match she drove a ball into the water, but was able to hit a great second shot to salvage a par.

"She was a very good player when she came to Arundel, but she has worked very hard during the season and offseason," Prescott said. "She really started to find her game halfway through the high school season. She really started shooting some low numbers toward the end of September and beginning of October. We were playing a lot, which I think really helped her to improve her game."

Phelps said Smith is already getting looks from some top-flight colleges. Her savvy on the course has also elevated her to one of the leaders on the team. Even when she is the first player to finish her round, she likes to stick around and watch other matches so she can encourage other players on her team.

The Wildcats started to peak in the second part of the year, finishing second in the county, second in the district and sixth in the state. Prescott credits the strong finish to Smith's play down the stretch and her leadership skills.

"Her focus is very intense," Prescott said. "It is almost intimidating, which is kind of ironic because she is a very petite young lady. She is a pit bull when she is on the course. She thrives on playing against the guys. She enjoys that competitiveness."

As much as she enjoys her time on the golf course, Smith has other interests. She has thrived academically at Arundel, maintaining an unweighted 4.0 grade point average with one Advanced Placement class and the rest honors courses and electives. She is also a member of the school's math and engineering clubs.

She admits that juggling academics and athletics can be difficult, and many nights, she has to stay up late finishing her homework. Smith, who said she wants to be prepared if her goal of playing professional golf does not work out, is undecided on where she wants to attend college.

Smith also has earned a second-degree black belt in karate, and she has taken many of the skills she has developed in martial arts and used them on the golf course.

Even though the season is over, Smith has continued to work on her game, getting out to the course or simply swinging a club in her family basement.

"I want to try and get stronger, so I will lift weights," Smith said. "My swing is pretty good right now, so I just need to work on a few things. I really need to work on putting. It has been pretty good, but it hasn't been consistently good."

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