Day 2: Swanson captures women's title Jun 13, 2004  (15 years ago)

 
By Randy King, The Roanoke Times
Jun 13, 2004, 09:31

Any of the Roanoke Valley's top players who didn't know Meredith Swanson before this weekend's Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame women's championship certainly know her now.

Introducing herself in resounding fashion, the 13-year-old Swanson knocked out five-time champion Dot Bolling with a birdie on the third playoff hole Sunday afternoon at Hidden Valley to become the youngest winner in the event's 26-year history.

"Where did she come from?" wondered 2003 champion Marilyn Bussey, echoing a much-asked question among the gallery.

Basically, Swanson has come from nowhere to somewhere. She's come in a hurry, too.

Competing in her first HOF, Swanson proved she has major game to go with impeccable composure for a kid who only last week completed the seventh grade at Hidden Valley Middle School.

"She's 13 years old!" marveled Bolling, 58. "Michelle Wie? Does that ring a bell?

"Do I think she has it? She already hits the ball farther than most people. She has composure. I think she has it all.

"I think she is the best one I've seen to come out of this valley and that even includes Lee Shirley."

Shirley, of Salem, won three HOF titles and three State Amateur titles in the mid-1990s.

Swanson, who said she didn't take up the game seriously until two years ago, was dead serious in the playoff. She took down the battle-tested Bolling on the 18th hole of the veteran's home course. After each halved the first playoff hole with pars, Swanson calmly drained a 20-foot downhill putt to save par on the second trip to No.18 and extend the playoff to a third tour of the 298-yard par-4. This time, Swanson left nothing to chance, sticking a wedge to 15 inches of the cup on her approach shot. When Bolling missed her 18-foot birdie putt and holed her par, Swanson routinely tapped in for the winning birdie for her first tournament victory.

"It's a pretty good feeling to win," Swanson said. "I'm not that happy I took the title from her, but I wanted to win, too."

The big blow, of course, was the unlikely drainage of the slick 20-footer for par that extended the playoff to a third hole.

"I don't make that putt many times out of 10 tries," Swanson said. "But my dad [Stuart, who caddied for his daughter] said, 'I know this line, I can see the break.' And I put the ball right on the line and it dropped right in."

Swanson, who shot a final-round of 4-over 75, credited her textbook swing mechanics to her work with Steve Prater, head professional at Blacksburg Country Club.

"I started swinging a club when I was like 4 years old, but I was playing travel softball up until a couple years ago," Swanson said. "I don't play that anymore and my dad just thought 'why don't we play golf again?' We started getting into it and taking more lessons, and I figured out it was my thing and that I wanted to stick with it."

When asked about the seemingly rock-hard mental toughness that belies her years, Swanson pointed at seven months of work with Dr. John Heil, her Roanoke-based sports psychologist.

"I just have these little things that take my mind off everything and so I can focus on one thing," Swanson said. "It was my dad's suggestion. We read a lot of books on Tiger [Woods] and how he went to all these sports psychologists, so we decided if I was really going to do this, I needed to get all the things that I needed to play the game."

Still, Swanson, playing for Roanoke Country Club, needed some help from her close friend Vicki Kasza, of Hunting Hills, to have a shot to win. Kasza, 17, who entered the day with a two-shot lead on the field, double-bogeyed the final hole of regulation for a 78 that left her one shot out of the playoff at 9-over 153.

"I guess my nerves got to me. I had it in my hands and I let it go," said Kasza, who after a beautiful drive on the final hole, left her 50-yard approach short, then bladed her third to the rear of the heavily tilted green, where she three-putted from 18 feet.

Bolling said Swanson's triumph marked a passing of the torch in valley women's golf.

"There comes the time when we have to turn over the reins to the youngsters," Bolling said.

Paced by Bolling's 73 and Nancy Shuck's 80, Hidden Valley captured its second straight and sixth team title in seven years by two shots over 12-time champion Countryside and Hunting Hills.

Reprinted with permission from The Roanoke Times.

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