REUNION, Fla. — Watching Janie Jackson swing a golf club — and, milliseconds later, watching her ball scream down the fairway — you can’t help but marvel at the possibilities. Her swing is long and flowing and powerful, capable of producing 275-yard drives on autopilot. She is tall and strong, with plenty of speed and torque. And she’s aggressive, really aggressive, as she cuts corners and takes angles other competitors can’t even fathom.
Kind of like her pal, Lexi Thompson.
So why is Jackson playing in the third-to-last group, on the opposite nine of the leaders, some 20 shots behind eventual champion Alison Lee?
Her golf bag still slung around her shoulders after Monday’s final round of the AJGA Annika Invitational, Jackson fiddled nervously with the longest club in her bag.
“Putting and chipping,” she said. “They can always be better.”
It’s why after leaving Reunion Resort, where she tied for 48th, Jackson doesn’t even know when she’ll play another national event. She wants to “lay off the tourneys for a while,” and continue to work virtually every day at her home course, The Ledges in Huntsville, Ala., under the supervision of instructor Mark Blackburn. Yes, putting and chipping can always be better, which might be just the improvement that vaults this big-hitter into the top 10 in the country.
Her length, after all, isn’t a surprise to ardent women’s golf followers. Last September, Jackson, 17, won the qualifier for the LPGA’s Navistar Classic, then made the cut after a dazzling 67 in the second round. That probably would have garnered a few headlines . . . except that was the same event that another teen, Thompson, won in resounding fashion and set off a media craze. So, instead, “I had a front-row seat to that,” Jackson said.
Thompson and Jackson hung out for five hours on the eve of Navistar’s final round. That night they talked about normal stuff, like boys, but Jackson came away from that event with not only a newfound respect for her friend’s talent, but also a certain swagger about her own game, too.
“It let me know what I need to get better with,” said Jackson, who is No. 56 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, “but it was nice that I was even able to compete with them.”
Putting and chipping can always be better, which is why for the past eight months she’s been dabbling with a belly putter. Though it’s helped from inside 15 feet, she still struggles with longer putts. That, she says, is merely an extension of her entire short game.
“From 30 yards and in, it’s almost a mental thing,” she said. “If you think you can do it, then you probably can.”
For the past two years, Jackson has been runner-up at her hometown event, the AJGA Huntsville Junior, a feat that would be quite noteworthy in those parts . . . except in 2010, that was the same event that another teen, Emma Talley, smashed virtually every AJGA scoring record en route to a 22-stroke romp. So Jackson also had a front-row seat to that.
How, then, can Jackson reverse the trend?
“Chipping and putting,” she said, which is why Jackson will pack up her belongings and move 1,600 miles away, to the University of Arizona, where she begins this fall.
“It was a really hard decision,” said Jackson, who also fielded offers from Alabama, Georgia, Vanderbilt and LSU. “But for me, that was the place that gave me the best chance to excel.”
Fantastic weather all year. An energetic coach in Laura Ianello. And, not least, a state-of-the-art practice facility, where she hopes to harness all of that immense talent.