July 13, 2012
Charlottesville’s Lauren Coughlin, 19, posted a wire-to-wire 2-and-1 victory over University of Virginia teammate Elizabeth Brightwell, 21, of Nellysford in Friday’s scheduled 18-hole final at the 87th Virginia State Golf Association Women’s Amateur Championship, which concluded today at the 5,770-yard, par 72 Golden Horseshoe Golf Club Gold Course.
Coughlin, a redshirt newcomer as a member of the golf team this past season, played efficiently the whole way, shot the stroke play equivalent of five under par and hit 16 of 17 greens in regulation to claim her first Women’s Amateur.
If her performance in the final is any indication, her redshirt is soon going to be gathering cobwebs.
“I’ve never hit the ball better. I’ve never putted better. Everything was going right,” said Coughlin, who took home the Kohler Trophy. “All week, I haven’t played this well in my entire life.”
Brightwell, a rising junior at the university, made five birdies and was the stroke play equivalent of two under, came away impressed with her opponent’s play. She couldn’t help but anticipate Coughlin being a part of the Cavaliers rotation during the upcoming season.
“My game was kind of good today and I had some moments where I could’ve made birdies, but at other moments I struggled,” Brightwell said. “I would’ve had to be really on today and she was definitely 100 percent on. It was so fun to watch and I can’t wait for her to travel with us next year. I’d say she’s ready.”
It showed – seemingly over and over again in the deciding match. Counting the concessions that are typically a part of match play, Coughlin shot the stroke play equivalent of four under par following the first nine to charge out to a three holes up lead. The owner of a smooth swing, each of her birdie chances came inside 12 feet.
Hardly intimidated by her first final, she won No. 1 with a conceded birdie and built a three holes up advantage through the first four holes, with her birdie putts at Nos. 3 and 4 combining for less than 10 feet in length.
Brightwell made inroads at the par-4 fifth, curling in a right-to-left breaking 16-footer from just off the putting surface. Coughlin answered at the par-4 eighth, watching her 13-foot birdie putt hang on the edge of the hole for a moment before the ball dropped in for birdie. Coughlin used just 14 putts on the first nine.
“I had nine good chances for birdie on the front nine and made four of them, so that helped a lot,” said Coughlin, who took the par-4 10th with a par to push her lead to a match-high 4 up.
The second low qualifier for match play, Brightwell played gutsy golf the entire week and her gritty play showed on the second nine. Putting on a shotmaking display of her own, she ran off three straight birdies – all inside 10 feet – from Nos. 11-13 to close the margin to one for the first time since the second hole.
“When I was 4 down, I thought that I might lose and once I came to grips with that, I wanted to make it a respectable finish,” Brightwell said. “In the end, I couldn’t push myself too hard. I just had to be patient. You had to make birdies to win a hole.”
Coughlin did just that at the par-4 14th, clipping a perfect wedge second shot to close range at No. 14 for an eventual birdie. Her mindset following Brightwell’s surge?
“OK, I need to step it up,” Coughlin said. “I missed some putts, but I hit it to 2 feet at [No.] 14 and that kind of stopped it.”
She proceeded to win the par-5 15th with a conceded par to go dormie-3. Brightwell birdied the par-3 16th, knocking her 7-footer for birdie right in the center to keep the encounter going.
But it was Coughlin’s day and she closed the match at the par-4 17th. She needed only two putts to win after Brightwell’s approach shot flew the putting surface.
Coughlin, who had never advanced past the second round of match play in four previous starts at the Women’s Amateur, looked completely at ease in the final. She admits that redshirting during her first year at U.Va. “was the best thing that could’ve happened to me.”
“Lauren was dialed in from the get-go,” Brightwell said. “She was making birdies from everywhere. It took me some time to roll a couple [putts] in, but by that time, it was a little late, but I gave it my all.”
In recording five wins, Coughlin, the fourth low qualifier for match play, trailed only briefly in her first round encounter against Richmond’s Lindsay Wortham. She led the entire way in the others, including wiping out the event’s stroke play qualifying medalist Carol Robertson (Virginia Beach), 6 and 4 in the semifinals.
A graduate of Hickory High School in Chesapeake, Coughlin finished second at the VSGA Junior Girls’ Championship for three straight years from 2008-10. Coughlin, who plays at a refreshingly brisk pace, broke through for victory with a shining performance in Friday’s final.
“I definitely didn’t want to come in second place again,” Coughlin said with a laugh.
What does it all mean for U.Va.’s women’s golf program? A lot, according to Brightwell.
“It means we have a really bright future. I have a little bit more experience than Lauren. This is all new to her and she just kicked my butt,” she said.