If everyone loves an underdog, 12-year-old Lauren Thibodeau of Hampstead may be the fan favorite in the 90th New Hampshire Women’s Golf Association championship at Hanover Country Club.
Thibodeau, already a two-time winner of the NHWGA Junior title, joined the field for the 54-hole championship, beginning today at Hanover Country Club. She’s been playing lots of golf — and playing well. She returned Monday from the three-day U.S. Kids Golf World Championship in Pinehurst, N.C., where she finished ninth among 88 girls in her age group.
Two years ago, Thibodeau made a name for herself in New Hampshire by winning the NHWGA Junior crown at Intervale Country Club of Manchester.
Not only is Thibodeau dedicated to improving her swing, the phenom does her homework on the game’s history. The Windham Country Club member said she is thrilled to be playing in the NHWGA tournament, joining a sorority that includes past winners and New Hampshire golfing legends Jane Blalock (1969) and Pat Bradley (1968). Multi-time champ Louise Billy of Derryfield will be playing in Thibodeau’s threesome today, along with Colette Schmidt from Eastman Golf Links in Grantham.
“That’s pretty cool to be playing with Louise Billy,” said Thibodeau, who also mentioned Blalock and Bradley in the same sentence. “I’m just excited to be playing.”
Hanover Country will be a “fair and challenging test,” according to club pro Alex Kirk, the women’s golf coach at Dartmouth. No hidden holes. No crazy targets or impossibly fast greens. The winner will have to hit hilly fairways, maintain composure and sink some long putts. The semi-private course, owned by Dartmouth College, is the school’s oldest existing recreational and athletic facility.
“There’s nothing too tricky. The fairways are generous. The greens are firm and fast, probably the fastest I’ve seen them in a couple years,” Kirk said. “The course is in the best condition I’ve seen in my seven years here. It’s a fair and challenging test. There is no reason to try and make it harder than it already is.”
Weather conditions should be nearly perfect for the stroke play tournament. Defending champion Tara Watt, a member at Derryfield Country Club of Manchester, will be among the first group teeing off this morning at 7:30. Watt’s group will include Chelsea Demers from Bretwood Country Club in Keene and Cortney Tilley out of Atkinson Country Club.
Watt, a Goffstown resident, won last year’s title by knocking down pins at the Golf Club of New England in Stratham. Watt birdied the tournament’s 53rd hole to break a four-way tie, then finished with a par to seal the title and defeat Demers.
Fourteen-time NHWGA champ Dana Harrity finished third at Hanover in 1999. Harrity has won the state title three times since 2004.