Lauren Thibodeau stands barely a foot taller than her driver. But the determined 12-year-old from Hampstead, N.H., launches the ball with ease off the tee.
And yes, she can play, and she does so with plenty of promise and skill, along with a true respect and enjoyment of the game of golf.
She has been playing since she was 6, and this summer, she has been out on the course nearly every day, with her supportive family providing transportation all over New England and beyond.
Last summer, at 11, Thibodeau became the youngest player to win the New Hampshire Women's Golf Association Junior Championship, with a 4-over-par 77. Last Thursday, she repeated as champion, carding an even-par 73 at Manchester’s Intervale Country Club, a round that featured 16 pars for a seven-stroke victory.
The following day, she was at Pine Valley in Pelham, N.H., for a New England PGA Junior event, where she was eight shots off the pace of Julia Yao in the 14- to 18-year-old division.
On Monday, she cruised to a 23-stroke win at Nabnasset Lake Country Club in Westford.
It was her third win in her last four events, counting her round from a week ago Tuesday on her home course, Windham (N.H.) Country Club, when she fired an even-par round for the first time, a 73, to earn top honors in another New England PGA Junior tournament.
“It wasn't my best performance [Friday], but it didn't matter to me, because I came out and played,” said Thidobeau, who relies on her putting to keep her on top.
“I got two birdies, so I was proud of that. I think it was on [holes] 14 and 16.
“For me, it's golf almost every day. But I enjoy doing it,” she added.
For Jacy Settlers, manager of junior operations for the New England PGA, seeing kids show an initial passion for the game of golf in the face of competition makes him love what he does.
Thibodeau, entering the seventh grade in Hampstead Middle School, is already competing in the 14-18 girls’ division, consisting mostly of high school girls.
“She's a real firecracker,” said Settlers, who speaks highly of Thibodeau's young wisdom and ability to treat competitors as friends.
“She's a 12-year-old going on 18, when it comes to golf.”
“We hear that a lot,” added Thibodeau's mother, Kristen. “We're actually not golfers; she is the first” in the family.
Whether she is practicing or in competion, Thibodeau does her best to brush up on her skills every day of the week. The off-season doesn't bring a pause, either; she practices indoors.
On Wednesday, Thibodeau played the first round of the Optimist International Junior Championship, a three-round tournament in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Last year, she recorded a hole-in-one on the second day of the tournament.
In August, she will also compete at the US Kids Golf World Championship, a prestigious 12-and-under tourney in Pinehurst, N.C.
But with the drive and passion comes the core value of family. The support of her mother and father, Dave, has been a key factor in giving her a foundation to build upon.
“We help her achieve her goals,” said Kristen Thibodeau. “We're proud of her. She's gained a lot of confidence and perseverance from golf.”
Her daughter is currently second in her division in the NEPGA Junior standings with 105 points, trailing only Angela Zhang (140) of Sharon.
“They know at the end of the day, that if they're not having fun, something's wrong, said Settlers.
In the Junior Boys’ 16-18 division, Burlington’s Bryan Hunt is the current leader (112.0 points), followed by Matt Peacock (107.50) of Boxford.
However, Mac Cavanaugh, an 18-year-old from West Newbury, registered wins in the boys’ 16-18 divison last Tuesday (Windham) and Friday (Pine Valley) after picking up clubs for the first time in seven months after undergoing surgery.
His practice schedule has been nonstop, said the Pentucket Regional graduate.
“I usually spend a few hours at the [driving] range in the morning, and then go out and play,” said Cavanaugh, who will be doing a post-grad year at Junior Players Golf Academy in Hilton Head, S.C.
“We'll be preparing him to be a collegiate golfer, mentally and physically,” said academy president Chris Tremblay, a Pittsfield, Mass., native who was the runner-up in the state junior championship in 1979.
“More than anything they [New England Golfers] have to adjust to the grasses down here,” he said. “We make golf part of our students’ daily routines,” adding that many of the academy’s golfers are recruited by Atlantic Coast Conference schools.
Closer to home, the NEPGA accommodates young golfers who want to play every day. Settlers noted that the majority play multiple tourneys per week, with most competing at least once per week.
There are six NEPGA Junior events scheduled in the next seven days, including Holden Hills Country Club in Holden and Little Harbor CC in Wareham Thursday.Jonathan Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.