By Tom Robinson
© May 2, 2013
As a rookie on the LPGA Tour, Suffolk’s Lauren Doughtie lashes her average tee shot farther than nine of the world’s top 10 players. She hits greens more consistently than three of them.
The rub of Doughtie’s still-green career is what happens once she’s on the putting surface, where she needs nearly 33 putts per round to get the job done. That’s second-most on tour, the main reason Doughtie’s made just one cut in five events and why her winnings total a meager $6,462.
She hopes that changes before family and friends this week at the Kingsmill Championship, the $1.3 million tournament that begins today.
“What better place to have it all come together than at home?” said Doughtie, who tees off at 2:20 p.m. in an event she’s anticipated playing in since earning her tour card five months ago at qualifying school.
Ironically, considering her balky putter, Doughtie birdied twice in a three-hole playoff – following five grueling rounds – to become 1 of 35 rookies experiencing what Doughtie called the “growing pains” of tour life.
Mostly, that’s meant difficult – and expensive – travel to unknown courses with unfamiliar grass and little time to unlock their secrets before hitting shots that count. Doughtie, 26, has played in Australia, Arizona and California, and is at the end of a three-week jaunt from Virginia to Hawaii to Texas to Williamsburg.
Her sponsors, Smithfield and TowneBank, help defray costs, but Doughtie’s tangible payoff so far has been a tied-for-43rd finish in mid-March at the RR Donnelly Founders Cup in Phoenix.
A deeper look at that lone positive result, however, fuels Doughtie’s confidence that she’s closer to contention than one-cut in five suggests. She was 2 under par entering Sunday in Phoenix and, playing alongside then-world No. 1 Yani Tseng, Doughtie closed with a 6-under 66.
That round of six birdies and no bogeys matched Doughtie’s professional best – she shot 66 two years ago on the developmental Symetra Tour – and also is third-best this year among rookies.
“That day, I hit 17 greens; the only one I missed was by a foot and a half,” Doughtie said, “so I had a lot of really good opportunities. I’m trying to capture that again.”
That Doughtie hasn’t broken par in six rounds since and is a collective 31 over is representative of what a grind the tour is. And while hitting greens that Sunday meant ample birdie looks, that’s not always the case.
Which situation is better, for example – hitting a green 40 feet from the hole and leaving a testy lag putt or missing by 5 feet, but having an easy chip for a potential one-putt?
For someone struggling to decipher poa annua greens in California, where Doughtie’s worst rounds of 79 and 80 took place, the answer is obvious.
“Have the scores been anywhere near what I wanted? Absolutely not,” Doughtie said. “But it’s been so close to where I want it to be. I can see it, and my coach sees it when we’ve been out there working on things.”
What makes that coach – T.J. Young of Suffolk’s Cedar Point Country Club – bullish is that Doughtie’s attitude requires no massage.
“She’s very upbeat about everything, including the way she’s hitting her putts a lot of times,” said Young, who will follow Doughtie this week for the first time as an LPGA pro.
“From my experience, putting is definitely the first thing that gets out of sorts in a tournament with that kind of pressure. ... She really just needs some more tournament experience. It’s going to take a little time to get seasoned.”
This week, that includes finding a comfort level despite celebrity treatment from a hometown gallery. Doughtie said a Symetra Tour event in Richmond last summer, where she missed the cut, was a welcome trial run.
“I had a tendency to add too much pressure,” said Doughtie, who will have a familiar face carrying her bag: local pro David Martin, an assistant at her home course of Elizabeth Manor. “I think I learned my lesson there. You have to enjoy the fact you have a lot of people there supporting you.”
That’s the exact advice Christina Kim, a personable veteran popular with fans, said she’d give Doughtie: embrace her “local hero” status and engage her well-wishers.
“Soak it in; relish it,” Kim said. “As long as you can stay present within the shot at hand, do whatever you want in between. There’s gonna be so much nervous energy, sometimes you have to let it out.
“And remember that it’s still golf; 18 tee shots and 18 cups, and that hasn’t changed.”
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