By RAY McCARTHY
Lorie Warren had posted an unsightly 14-over 85, but her focus – like everyone else at the 2003 U.S. Girls’ Junior at Brooklawn Country Club in Fairfield, Conn. – was on 13-year-old Michelle Wie.
“She drew so many crowds,” Warren, now a senior at Belmont University, said of Wie, who earlier in the year had become the youngest player to win an adult USGA championship at the Women’s Amateur Public Links. “I wanted to stop and see her hit the ball. She murdered it.”
After the first round of stroke-play qualifying, Warren was near the bottom with her 85, but she rebounded with a second-round 74 and finished T-56 to squeak into match play. For a while, it looked as if Warren might have drawn a pairing with Wie, who finished runner-up in stroke play.
“I like to think I’m a pretty humble person,” said Warren, “but I was like ‘Yeah, I want to play Michelle Wie. What does she have on me?’ ”
An 8-and-6 loss to Catalina Marin in the first round humbled Warren even more, but the experience resonated with her.
“My dad told me to go out there and redeem myself,” she said. “I had no idea how huge that whole experience was for me because I got to be around these girls who had been playing since they could walk. I learned a lot about myself.”
It’s this attitude that has won Warren five titles in her time at Belmont. Her most recent came Sept. 16 at the Great Smokies Intercollegiate, where she went 69-69 to win by a stroke over Wofford’s Sarah Hurt. In June, Warren won six matches en route to her victory at the Tennessee Women’s Amateur.
Winning has become second nature for the 21-year-old.
“Once you finally get a win, it makes it easier,” she said. “You’re more laid back when you go out and play knowing that you’ve done it before.”
As a sophomore, Warren won three times to compile one of the best seasons in Bruins history. Warren’s success is the result of a strong relationship with her father, Johnny, who is owner and director of instruction at the Johnny Warren Golf Academy, an indoor/outdoor training facility based out of Fairvue Plantation in Gallatin, Tenn. Johnny has been Lorie’s “everything coach” since she took up the game as an eighth grader.
By the time she graduated high school, Warren was recruited by several SEC schools and it seemed obvious to her that she would attend a big school and play in an NCAA Championship, one of her highest goals as a golfer.
But visiting SEC schools exposed Warren to a reality she wasn’t prepared for.
“She could’ve gone to an SEC school, but she wanted to stay close to home and work with her dad and not be as regimented as some of those programs are,” said Belmont coach Lissa Bradford. “(Going to Belmont) gave her the flexibility to work on what she has to work on to be a great player.”
“Something wasn’t right about it,” she said. “The second I walked away from those schools, I knew this wasn’t where I wanted to go.”
Belmont struck Warren as the place she wanted to be, and the health care management major hasn’t forfeited her goals of competing in an NCAA Championship.
“She’ll have to keep playing well and keep her average low so she gets an individual bid,” said Bradford.
Bradford does not dismiss her team’s chances of reaching an NCAA regional, but winning the Atlantic Sun Conference title will be tough with strong Campbell and East Tennesse State teams vying for spots.
Ofcourse, If Warren achieves her goal, the NCAA Championship is a strong possibility.
“Right now, I’m trying to win every collegiate tournament I play in.”
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Ray McCarthy is a Golfweek assistant editor. To reach him e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
MORE DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH
Emma DeGroot, So. (Chattanooga)
2007-08 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 74th
DeGroot recorded a scoring average of 74.06 and was named the Southern Conference freshman of the year. She placed in the top 5 six times last year while winning twice. Playing as an individual she tied for 17th at the NCAA East Regional.
Paula Hurtado, So. (Fla. International)
2007-08 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 109th
Hurtado, who averaged 74.19 during her rookie season, was named the Sun Belt Conference freshman of the year a year ago. She placed in the top 25 in six of eight starts last year and was invited to the NCAA East Regional as an individual where she tied for 43rd place.
Therese Nilsson, Sr. (Lamar)
2007-08 Golfweek/Sagarin Ranking: 256th
Nilsson, who is from Vellinge, Sweden, was the the 200-07 Southland Conference Player of the Year. As a junior last year, she recorded five top-10 finishes, including a pair of individual titles at the Islander Spring Classic and the Lamar/Sam Houston State Spring Invitational while earning first team All-Southland Conference honors. During her freshman season she was named the Southland Conference freshman of the year (after transferring to Lamar from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina).
— Lance Ringler