Preview: Southard in transition at New England Jr.
On paper, Isabel Southard will be another golfer at the inaugural Golfweek New England Junior Invitational at Blue Hill CC in Canton, Mass. For the 17-year-old Sharon, Mass., native and her family, the tournament will carry a greater meaning: it will link Southard’s childhood to her upcoming collegiate career.
Golfweek New England Junior
• Boys – par 72, 6,646 yards
• Girls – par 72, 6,003 yards
• Top-ranked boy is Jake Shuman (No. 262)
• Top-ranked girl is Isabel Southard (No. 119)
• Blue Hill Country Club played host to the 1956 PGA Championship won by Jack Burk Jr.
• Blue Hill Country Club hosted the LPGA Ping/Welch’s Championship six times (1991-1997). Winners include Liselotte Neumann, Emilee Klein, Helen Alfredsson and Dottie Pepper.
When Southard was young, her family maintained a membership at Blue Hill. Southard, No. 77 in Golfweek’s Junior Rankings, made her mark at Blue Hill early, playing in the women’s club championship as a 12-year-old. Despite facing older and more experienced opponents, Southard took the competition head-on.
“She had been playing competitive golf for about a year,” said Southard’s father, Peter. “I remember on the last nine holes of the tournament there were maybe 30 or 40 people watching, and there were carts on the course coming down the last few holes. She parred the last three holes and won the club championship at the age of 12, which was a really special moment for us.”
Five years later, Southard will tee off at Blue Hill with a much different mindset. Rather than playing with her whole junior career ahead of her, Southard, who graduated from Sharon High School in the spring, will be playing in her second-to-last junior event (the last will be the Massachusetts Girls’ Junior in August).
The chances of Southard making a run at Blue Hill are high. After spending time at Blue Hill during her childhood, she may have a leg up on the competition. “That used to be my home course for a long time, like five years, so I’ve played there a lot before,” Southard said. “A lot of the advantage is because I know the course really well and the greens and everything.”
Southard will be looking to capitalize on any advantage she can get. She has experienced some disappointments this season, including a missed cut at the U.S. Girls’ Junior earlier this month. The Boston College bound player is trying to make some adjustments before arriving at Blue Hill.
“I haven’t really been having a great summer. I’m going through some changes in my swing,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve changed anything technically with my putting or my chipping. I’ve just gotten into some bad habits.”
As for her high school career, Southard already finished strong. She won the Massachusetts Girls Invitational on June 5 at the Bay Club in Mattapoisett, Mass. Despite the five-stroke victory, Southard was hard on herself after a 4-over 75.
“I didn’t think I really played great there,” she said. “I hit 17 greens in regulation, which is really good, but then my putting was bad. I’m disappointed about that, but I mean, I had never won the state tournament before, so it was a nice way to end my high school golf career.”
Although she may be tough on herself, Southard should hold her head high when it comes to her junior career. Southard’s AJGA résumé includes five top-10 finishes and one title, a three-shot victory at the 2011 Killington Junior Golf Championship at Green Mountain National Golf Course in Killington, Vt. She also made the cut at the 2011 U.S. Girls’ Junior and advanced through the first round of match play.
Southard is able to put her current summer struggles behind her and praise her junior career as a whole.
“I would say I was pretty good,” she said. “I used to get discouraged if I didn’t play well in big tournaments. A lot of these girls are from Florida and down south and they’ve been playing longer than me. I’d say overall, I’m pretty happy with it, being from the North and being able to play in such big tournaments.”
That Blue Hill is one of the final stops of Southard’s junior career is not the only thing that makes it significant. A few weeks after the New England Junior, Southard will officially join the Boston College golf team. The Eagles’ home course is Blue Hill.
“It’s like coming full circle,” Peter said. “Starting as a junior and growing up on the course and winning that tournament, and then one of her last tournaments as a junior golfer will be at Blue Hill. She will be playing as she transitions into her college career with Boston College. It will be almost a perfect way for her to end her junior career. It will be a real emotional and real special moment.”
When Southard first began looking at colleges, she wanted to break away from her native Northeast. Southard spent half of her sophomore year and her entire junior year at the Core Golf Academy in Orlando, Fla., so she has a taste of what being able to play year-round golf is like. It’s why she was looking south.
“I looked at what was important,” she said of the college search. “I wanted to go to a school that I was also going to have a good time at, not too much pressure either school-wise or golf-wise.”
As for the future of her golf career, Southard is not rushing to make plans too far ahead. A possible pro career is a long way in the future, so she’ll take it one tournament at a time.
At the Players’ Dinner on the eve of the U.S. Girls’ Junior, players and their families listened to a speech by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She spoke of her childhood passion for playing the piano, which was marred in college when she realized she did not have the talent to be a top pianist. Rice eventually developed a second passion, international politics, and she made it her career.
Peter left Rice’s speech with the hope his daughter finds another passion one day to accompany golf.
“I hope what golf does for Izzy is that it is an instrument for her to get into a good school,” he said. “I hope she plays and loves it for the rest of her life, but I hope she accidentally finds another passion in life at some point and learns what working really hard every day at something can do for you and applies it to that next great passion.
“I think golf has gotten her into a great school and she kind of owes the game more than I could ever imagine.”