Steady climb could bring Brittany Altomare to Solheim Cup

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Steady climb could bring Brittany Altomare to Solheim Cup

LPGA Tour

Steady climb could bring Brittany Altomare to Solheim Cup

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Brittany Altomare’s roots in team competition date back to Shrewsbury (Mass.) High when she captained the boys’ golf team.

Altomare played from the men’s tees, bopping it down the fairway about 215. She played in the No. 1 spot and, according to teammate Nick Erlichman, was treated like one of the guys. The stretched-out courses improved her short game.

During the postseason, one school in particular raised a stink about a girl playing against the boys, but once everyone understood that she had no intention of moving up to the red tees, things settled down.

“I think it definitely fazed them,” said Erlichman of opposing teams. “If there ever was a day that they ended up beating her, they probably told everyone and probably still do.”

Altomare’s name carries weight in Shrewsbury, a suburban town in Worcester County. It’s gaining traction on a larger scale now that the 28-year-old has put herself squarely in the mix for the 2019 Solheim Cup at Gleneagles. Altomare has contended in two of her last three LPGA starts and ranks 26th on the money list ($367,849). Her fifth place in Arkansas moved her to eighth on the Solheim Cup points list. The top eight automatically qualify.

Like a good Italian

Let’s start with her name. It’s all-toe-MAR-ee. You’ve got to say it like a good Italian, explained her father Tom.

“Even though I don’t look Italian at all,” said Brittany, “mostly Irish.”

The boys at Shrewsbury thought it was a big deal back in 2006 when Brittany earned a spot on the Junior Ryder Cup team, playing overseas for the first time in Wales alongside the likes of PGA Tour players Tony Finau and Bud Cauley.

Brittany Altomare and her dad, Tom. (Brittany Altomare)

Brittany played a practice round at Celtic Manor with Finau and Tom likes to tell the story about the time Finau ripped a drive down a dogleg left and thought he might have caught the bunker. Tom assured him that he’d cleared that bunker on the corner. Brittany leaned over and said, “Dad, he’s not talking about the fairway bunker. He’s talking about the greenside bunker.”

Tom has already arranged his schedule to accommodate a trip to Gleneagles in September, should his eldest daughter make the team. His phone blows up when Brittany is in contention. At the family’s home club in Boylston, The Haven, the TVs are tuned to the LPGA. The same is true over at nearby Worcester Country Club. When a couple of newbies asked to switch it to men’s golf, they were promptly turned down.

Altomare played college golf at Virginia, where she won the 2013 ACC title and was named the conference’s Player of the Year. It was during a low point her junior year that she spent her first day with AimPoint founder Mark Sweeney on a miserably cold and rainy day in Gainesville, Va.

The lesson would become a turning point for Altomare.

The next would come a few years down the road when she played a casual round of golf at Seminole Golf Club over the Thanksgiving holiday with Justin Sheehan. While Sheehan was impressed with the young Symetra Tour player, he told her she didn’t hit the ball far enough to compete at the highest level.

That was five and a half years ago. Altomare hired Sheehan, moved to Tampa, Fla., got a new trainer and now hits the ball 250 to 255. She can also work the ball both ways, proudly asking Sheehan, “Did you see my fade?”

Now director of golf at Pelican Golf Club in Belleair, Fla., Sheehan said she might be the best hybrid player in the world.

Keeping her cool

The most striking thing about watching Altomare play though is the way she coasts around the golf course. It’s impossible to tell if she’s breaking a record or missing the cut.

“She reminds me of me in the morning before I have caffeine,” said Sheehan.

Altomare said her dad taught her early on not to let opponents see her sweat. That coolness was on display at the Evian Championship two years ago when she found herself in a playoff against Anna Nordqvist in some of the worst weather conditions imaginable (think hailstorm).

Senior captain photo with the coaches Leo Murray (left) and P.J. O’Connell (right) on either side of Brittany Altomare and then Nick Erlichman. (Nick Erlichman)

Growing up, Altomare never did leave snowy New England for the year-round rays of a Florida academy. She’d typically shut it down after the AJGA’s Polo Golf Junior Classic around Thanksgiving and return to action in late January at the Shrewsbury Racquetball and Tennis Club, hitting balls into a blue tarp about 30 yards away. Many a winter day Tom sat freezing beside Jon Curran’s father watching two of the state’s brightest golfers beat balls in a converted tennis facility.

Julia Ford was a manager for the Shrewsbury boys’ team before she grew up to lead it, following in the footsteps of Altomare all the way to Virginia.

“I feel like our high school thought it was normal,” said Ford, now a senior for the Cavaliers. “When we would play other schools I’d hear, ‘Oh, you have another girl that’s good on your team? What the heck?’ ”

There’s no real answer on how to raise a tour player, said Tom. He gets asked a lot. Unlike some of her peers, Brittany never burned out. She graduated from Virginia in 2013 with a degree in psychology and grinded on the Symetra Tour for three seasons before playing full-time on the LPGA in 2016. She finished 30th on the money list in 2017 and 46th last season.

Sheehan likens her to a Matt Kuchar-type – consistently cashing checks for the long haul. Altomare last missed a cut in August of 2018.

Keeping track of the numbers

Tom spent 32 years working at HP and used his penchant for numbers to create a detailed stats system at the request of Sheehan. The LPGA’s stats program is bare bones compared to the men’s tour. Brittany inputs her own numbers each week. Tom analyzes the trends and puts together a summary. Sheehan breaks it down and delivers the message.

Team photo with Brittany Altomare. (Nick Erlichman)

“We’ve got over 4,000 shots that has each club broken down,” said Tom.

They could analyze 250 shots taken with an 8-iron, for example, and see how far she hits it from the hole on average and how often she converts for birdie.

Proximity to the hole is broken down in zones. (Zone 1 being anything from 0 to 10 feet.) They do the same for putting.

Erlichman, a club pro who splits his time between Seminole and Sankaty Head, and another high school teammate, Brett Malboeuf, keep a text thread with running commentary during Brittany’s tournaments. They find it surreal that a spot on U.S. captain Juli Inkster’s team is within reach for their old friend.

“I’ve been invited to the dinners and Solheim practice,” said Brittany. “Even those things have been such an honor to be a part of.”

If Inkster wants to know what kind of teammate she’d be, there’s a line of guys from Shrewsbury who’d be eager to tell her.

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