By Michael Murillo
If you can play golf at a high level, you’ll be the envy of weekend hackers who crowd country clubs and public courses for a chance to sneak in a round. If you actually compete in a tournament, you’ll impress your friends and family. But, if you stage a final-round comeback, win a tournament and draw praise from its creator, you know you’ve done something special.
And this summer, Wesley Chapel resident Lauren Riehle did just that at the Hurricane Jr. Golf Tour’s Summer Classic at Shingle Creek Golf Club in Orlando. Riehle’s two-over-par performance the weekend of July 7-8 included a final-round score of 71 to not only overcome a two-stroke deficit after the first round, but claim the tournament victory by three strokes.
“It’s a big accomplishment because it’s an older division (girls 15-18), so she’s competing against girls who are potential Division I college players,” explained Mario Conte, executive director of the Hurricane Jr. Golf Tour (he started the tour in 2007). “She beat a really good field and she beat players who came from all over the southeast.”
The tour has players compete in two age groups — 11-14 and 15-18 — for both boys and girls. It includes about 65 events each year, including around a half-dozen in the Tampa area.
For the 18-year-old Riehle, whose father, Greg, is the executive VP at Saddlebrook Resort, it’s another feather in her golf cap — the Saddlebrook Preparatory High graduate earned five letters in her scholastic golf career (grades 8-12) and was named Pasco County’s Golfer of the Year for 2011-12 by a local daily newspaper. Although she’s won about 20 tournaments in her golf career (and participated in around 100), Riehle posted her best two-day score ever (146) at the event and said that winning the Summer Classic was both rewarding and challenging.
“Winning the tournament felt incredible,” Riehle said. “I knew I needed to play my very best golf, which placed great pressure on me, but the pressure fueled me to finish strong.”
She not only won her division, but that 71 also was the only under-par round scored by a female in the entire tourney. Riehle also led the field in pars (26), birdies (5), and her par-3 (2.88) and par-4 (4.15) averages also topped her division.
Although she works on her game by playing or practicing six days a week, Riehle believes that truly mastering golf occurs above the shoulders. “The mental aspect of golf is what makes it such a challenging sport,” she said. “Physical talent can take an athlete far in most sports, but in golf, a strong mentality is even more important.”
Conte agreed, noting that the game teaches children and young adults individual skills they can use as they get older. “Golf is 99 percent mental,” Conte said, “so they learn how to deal with a lot of different situations other sports wouldn’t teach them.”
For now, Riehle will be using those skills on more golf courses in Florida: She’ll be playing courses for the Women’s Golf team at the University of Miami, where she will study Sports Administration.
The Hurricane Junior Golf Tour also has several more out-of-state stops left on its 2012 schedule, plus events in Orlando, Bradenton, Harmony, Amelia Island and Port St. Lucie. Locally, the schedule includes a weekend in Wesley Chapel on Sept. 15-16. That event, the Tampa Bay Jr. Open, will be played on the Palmer Course (one of two tracks) at Saddlebrook Resort.
Riehle said her next goal is to pursue an NCAA championship with her fellow Lady Hurricanes in Miami, but golf has taught her many things that will prove valuable away from birdies and bunkers.
“Golf teaches a person to be dependent upon themselves, how to handle pressure, and, most important, honesty and integrity,” she said. “I’ve played tennis and lacrosse competitively in the past, but my heart always belonged to golf because of the character it takes to be successful.”
For info about the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour, visit HJGT.org.