Major upswing

In her sophomore year at Maryland Jessica Hollandsworth says she is playing better than ever

April 11, 2010|By Randy King | The Roanoke Times, Va. (MCT)

Don't ever tell Jason Rodenhaver that you can't find a diamond in the rough.

The University of Maryland women's golf coach knows better. He unearthed his jewel in the hills of Floyd County two years ago, when he basically stumbled upon Jessica Hollandsworth.

"It was basically luck," Rodenhaver recalled. "It happened because I answered the phone one day. It's always been my theory -- always answer the phone because you never know."

On the other end of the line was Floyd County High School assistant golf coach Bobby Clark, a former high school state champion who played at Clemson. It was one of several calls that Clark made to ACC schools on Hollandsworth's behalf.

"Thank goodness, Bobby Clark called. And, thank goodness, I answered the phone," Rodenhaver said.

Funny thing about it all was Rodenhaver had seen Hollandsworth play in an International Junior Golf tour event a year earlier at Grand Cypress Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. "I watched her and I'm like, ‘man, she's really good,' " he said. "Then I got home and I went into some of the 1 / 8recruiting 3 / 8 databases to try to get her phone number and she wasn't in any database.

"So I called Floyd, Virginia, and the operator said, ‘well, we've got 25 Hollandsworths.' After hearing that, I'm like this is going to be like finding a needle in a haystack. I basically just forgot about her.

"And, fortunately, Bobby called us later in the year."

Rodenhaver can only laugh about what's happened since.

"The rest is history," he said. "Obviously, she's our best player. She had a great freshman year last season. This season, she's played great. She's been very consistent for us, she's done well in school. She's a wonderful kid. I mean she's perfect. I have no worries about her. She's a once-in-a-lifetime player."

Going uptown

Led by Hollandsworth, Maryland finished the regular season with back-to-back second-place finishes, then won the Canes & Cardinal Classic this past week in Miami. The Terrapins look like a strong contender for an NCAA bid heading into this week's ACC Championship in Greensboro, N.C.

Hollandsworth, a sophomore, has won two titles and scored a pair of seconds, and has failed to finish outside the top 20 only two times in her college career. Not bad for a country girl who wasn't on the recruiting radar of top programs because she wasn't afforded the luxury of playing most top-flight junior events across the nation.

"My family didn't have the money to do all that," Hollandsworth said. "We went wherever we could that was close and just played golf."

Boy, the girl who honed her golf swing by pounding balls into a tarp in a barn on her family's farm has flashed her talent since. She's beaten some of the big-names that she used to read about in high school since arriving at Maryland.

"That's something that's been really nice," Hollandsworth said. "To see a lot of these names -- I mean I didn't play 1 / 8American Junior Golf Association 3 / 8 tournaments and I didn't travel a lot when I played junior golf. So to see some of these names that are always in GolfWeek and girls who were ranked highly … it's nice to be able to play against them and just get that experience, and know that I'm playing against really good players, and can actually hold my own against them.

"It's great to start out my college career that way. Hopefully, I can keep it going for the next two years."

Major adjustment

Forget the golf. The biggest adjustment for Hollandsworth was leaving the quiet confines of rural Floyd County and moving to the concrete jungle of College Park, Md., located only miles north of Washington, D.C.

"There's like triple the amount of students here as there is in the whole county of Floyd," said Hollandsworth, giggling. "And the traffic up here! It's a little different in Maryland than it is in Floyd County. There are five-lane expressways here, where back home it's pretty much just two-lane roads and cow fields."

Not to mention there are a few more stoplights. There is one traffic light in the entire county of Floyd. Now, no matter which way she turns when leaving campus, there's a stop light about a 5-iron shot away.

"The rest of the girls on the team ask me about Floyd and it's hard for them to believe that I come from a county that has only one traffic light," Hollandsworth said. "I tell them, ‘yeah, one traffic light, one high school and four elementary schools that feed into one high school.' It blows people's minds, I think. They can't really understand.

"And they love hearing about the barn. That barn is pretty funny to them."

Before she leaves college, Hollandsworth said she hopes to bring all her teammates to Floyd County and introduce them to life in the country.

"That's the plan … have them all come down and experience it for themselves," she said. "Hey, we've got 80 acres. We all can hit golf balls all over the place. Man, that would be a blast."

Down the road

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