Vandy's Stratton scrambles into spotlight
PARRISH, Fla. – The top 10 women in Golfweek’s college rankings are an elite crew. There are four Curtis Cuppers, a Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, a U.S. Women’s Amateur medalist and three members of the defending NCAA championship team. Of that group, Vanderbilt junior Lauren Stratton comes in at No. 2, unheralded but not the least bit out of place.
Stratton hasn’t won a college event yet, but she also didn’t finish outside the top 15 in four fall starts. She played to a 70.75 scoring average in the fall, which is five shots lower than where she left off last spring. It also means she ended the fall with the best average in the SEC – no small feat.
The sudden drop in scoring isn’t the result of some drastic swing change or any other miracle solution. Instead, Stratton says something just clicked. She has trouble explaining it exactly, but references more maturity and a better mindset. And then, of course, there’s the putting. She averaged 30 putts per round in the fall, and was just a little disappointed she couldn’t get that number into the 20s.
“It clicked for me,” she said. “You get on a good run, putts start falling and you gain some confidence.”
Another reason Stratton has flown under the radar is her history of using summers to “recoop” instead of play a heavy amateur schedule. It’s important for a player with arthritis in her hips and who battled a stress fracture in her back as a freshman. She used a pull cart to make it through a 36-hole day at the Central District Invitational, but as one of the first players off the course, marched immediately to the range to address ball-striking that was “way below par.”
Even though she estimates she hit maybe 50 percent of greens in regulation on Monday, Stratton shot back-to-back rounds of 1-over 73 at River Wildnerness Golf Club and is T-11. That signals a scrambler, and it’s a compliment Stratton will take.
“I’m not known to hit the ball straight all the time,” she said with a smile.
Erratic though she may be, Stratton knows her strengths. She pulled a fairway wood on many a tee box at the Central District as she worked to shake off the rust from a long offseason. She spent the day reliably getting up and down for par, and was 1 under on the second round when she stood on the 18th tee. After hitting her 5 wood in a hazard off the tee, dropping, then missing the green, Stratton chipped over the green then chipped in to save bogey. She wasn’t sure what to call it.
“I count it as an up and down,” she said.
Off the course, her personality couldn’t be more different from her style of play. Head coach Greg Allen’s best description of Stratton (also known as Strattie, Stratastic, Straticastor, and the list goes on) is “by the book.” He scratches his head for a mischievous Lauren Stratton story, but it’s not a bad time to come up short of words.
Combining Stratton with senior Marina Alex, ranked No. 7 by Golfweek, gives Vanderbilt one of the tougher 1-2 punches in the nation. Alex won the SEC Championship as a sophomore and had four runner-up finishes that year. Stratton, meanwhile, was a freshman keeping a watchful eye on just exactly how Alex did it.
“I know what she does all the time, get inside her head,” Stratton said of observing Alex at her peak. “It was good to see the ropes from somebody who has been at the top for so long in college golf.”
Two years later, Stratton is challenging Alex for the top spot on the roster. That, and the largest sticker collection (Allen hands them out for each round a player shoots under par). Alex turned in rounds of 71-72 on Monday for another sticker and a share of second place. Don’t think Stratton didn’t make a note of it.
“With the way Strattie is made, she wants to be the best,” Allen explains. “She knows if she wants to be the best on our team, she has to beat Marina.”