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Friday, August 8, 2014

Future of New Hampshire women’s golf is Hampstead’s Lauren Thibodeau

George Scione

After two days of play, there was never any doubt that Dana Harrity was on her way to a record 16th New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association championship.

That’s right, 16. That’s total domination by the 55-year-old North Hampton resident and Abenaqui Country Club member ever since she relocated to the Granite State from Connecticut. Her first State Am title came on her home course in 1982. Between then and Wednesday, when she cruised to a 12-stroke victory at Windham Country Club, she hoisted the trophy in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012. ...

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After two days of play, there was never any doubt that Dana Harrity was on her way to a record 16th New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association championship.

That’s right, 16. That’s total domination by the 55-year-old North Hampton resident and Abenaqui Country Club member ever since she relocated to the Granite State from Connecticut. Her first State Am title came on her home course in 1982. Between then and Wednesday, when she cruised to a 12-stroke victory at Windham Country Club, she hoisted the trophy in 1987, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2012.

Harrity was in the top spot from Day One. The veteran was tied with The Future – aka Lauren Thibodeau.

The 14-year-old Hampstead phenom and Windham CC member matched Harrity’s opening round 1-over par 73 for a share of the lead heading into Wednesday’s second round. That’s when things went a little haywire for Thibodeau. As Harrity pulled away from the field, shooting a 2-over 74, for a seven-stroke lead at 3-over 147 after two rounds, Thibodeau misfired with a 16-over 88.

“It was a tough round,” said Thibodeau, whose second round included a 12 on the par-5 fifth hole and a nine on the par-4 10th. “But you know I’m coming back and I’ll just bounce back tomorrow. There’s another day of golf to play.”

Strong words from the youngster, whose tears and tone of voice were expressing something entirely different.

Don’t forget, she’s still a teenager. Obviously overwhelmed by the entire day’s events, which included a two-stroke penalty for her caddie grounding a club in a hazard.

Yet, just as – if not more – impressive than Harrity’s three-day run, which concluded with a 5-over 77 in the final round, was Thibodeau talking the talk and walking the walk. For such a young talent, she’s not afraid to tell you exactly what she’s thinking. Then she follows through on it.

“Pretty much every tournament I play, I expect to win,” said Thibodeau after the first round.

While Tuesday’s round nullified that statement, Thibodeau took charge Wednesday, recording the best round of the final day, a 3-over 75, to leap frog all but her co-runner-up Lisanne Schmidt of Grantham and Eastman Golf Links and Harrity. Thibodeau carded pars on the fifth and 10th holes and scored a birdie on the par-3 third during Wednesday’s round.

“I was charging the ball a lot better,” Thibodeau said. “I figured out five and 10 and hit them pretty straight.”

The incoming freshman at Pinkerton Academy in Derry wasn’t even born when Harrity locked up her first title – the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth for that matter. Still a baby-faced teen, Thibodeau took the course Wednesday like the seasoned vet she was chasing.

Then again, she already has the resume of a star.

She anchored the Hampstead Middle School golf team that won two Tri-County Golf Junior High League co-ed titles. She won a pair of individual titles for her school – beating Windham star and New Hampshire Golf Association Junior champion James McKee for her first. Oh, she’s also won the NHWGA Junior Championship event the last four years.

The University of Georgia, Auburn University and the University of Southern California are all in hot pursuit, and she hasn’t even started her freshman year with the Astros yet.

Starting Friday, she takes her game up to Stonebridge Country Club in Goffstown, where she’ll compete with women on the verge of playing in the LPGA. One of those in the Symetra Tour field is Cheyenne Woods, the niece of Tiger Woods.

While Thibodeau tees off this weekend, she’ll have the eyes of New Hampshire on her. As if that’s anything new.

One fan in particular is happy to see her continuig to progress. Then again Harrity just loves to see the younger generation of golfers thriving in general.

“I want the kids to play well,” Harrity said. “I want New Hampshire golf to get great. I want all the kids to grow up and get better and learn how to play the game, and put themselves in these situations as much as they can, which isn’t easy.

“You have to put yourself out there and put your nerves and stomach on the line. Otherwise, you won’t get good.”

Thibodeau proved her mettle Wednesday. She wiped Tuesday’s tears away and got down to business. The kid’s got game.

Greater Nashua high schoolers beware – Lauren Thibodeau is ready to take over NHIAA golf by force this fall.

George Scione can be reached at 594-6520 or gscione@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Scione on Twitter (@Telegraph_BigG).