Foran finished fourth individually at the 2002 NCAA Divsion III Women's Golf Championships
Wuthering Heights and Golf Ball Flights;
Emily Foran's Pursuit of Women's Golf Excellence
April 23, 2002
AMHERST, MA - Some folks call golf a good walk spoiled. For Amherst College sophomore Emily Foran (Dallas, PA/Wyoming Seminary), it was more like a good book spoiled.
As a freshman at Amherst, in her first season of collegiate golf, she would contend for a national championship, earn Honorable Mention All-America honors and help lead her team to an unprecedented third-place finish at the 2002 NCAA Division III Championship Tournament. But just eight years earlier, she preferred the safety of her bedroom and the comfort of a good book.
It was Wuthering Heights, not golf ball flights, that commanded her attention. Nevertheless, golf was a big part of her family. Her father Tim, a 30-year PGA club professional in the Dallas, Pennsylvania, area, was a renowned teacher at a local course. He wanted her to play but often found her in a corner reading. An idea came to him.
“When I was young I didn’t really like golf,” says Emily. “I wasn’t athletic at all. I either wanted to be like my sister and play field hockey or sit in my room and read a book. My father decided there was no way I’d be good at field hockey so he gave me books about Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones and said, ‘Just read their biographies. They’re interesting people.’ ”
The books worked. Before long Emily was giving speeches in school about Jones and his theories on the golf swing. She also began spending time at the golf course. Her father gave her an old set of steel-shaft Pings, and she tagged along when he played or practiced.
“I learned how to putt and did a little short game at first; less likely to damage myself with a golf club that way,” she remembers. “I’d go out on off-peak hours and I knew some loops where you could play the fifth hole and cut over to the ninth so you didn’t have to play the entire course. I’d tell him what I thought I was doing wrong and about once a week he’d take me out to the range and say, ‘Hit a few balls and we’ll see what’s going on.’ ”
She entered her first tournament when she was 12 and was often the only girl in competitions that were admittedly way over her head. When she was 14 she entered the state golf tournament, had the highest handicap and finished dead last.
“We put her in competition at an early age,” her father says. “Though it was wrenching at times, she fought through it and found that she thrives on competition. To this day she doesn’t play social golf well. She thrives on competitive golf.”
Although the larger tournaments were a bit scary, they did wonders for Emily’s confidence. She still preferred books to people, but golfing against better, more experienced players forced her to become more assertive. It also raised her expectations.
“When I was 14 I was playing with girls who were 16 and beating me by 20 strokes. I thought, ‘Hey, that’s only two years from now. I can do that.’ It made me push myself a little bit harder.”
She played tournaments across the country, from Wisconsin to West Virginia, run by organizations like the United States Golf Association and the American Junior Golf Association, which also helped produce Tiger Woods. As a junior on the boys’ team at the Wyoming Seminary School, she shot a 91 and prevailed in a one-hole playoff to qualify for the Pennsylvania State High School Championship. It was time to start considering colleges.
“Her father contacted me when Emily was a sophomore,” says Amherst coach Michelle Morgan. “I thought, ‘Here’s this great golfer, we have no chance.’ But I always pursue every opportunity and I made a point of staying in touch. They came up for a visit, liked what they saw and decided that this is what she wanted. The education was an excellent match and the golf was a great avenue for her to improve her game.”
Excited to finally be on a women’s team (“I could always tell that the boys didn’t have the same rapport with me as they had with each other,” she says), Foran flourished almost immediately. In just her second tournament, the Fifth Annual Princeton Fall Invitational, Foran fired an opening round 84. She placed 39th individually and was the top Amherst finisher against a 20-team field of primarily Division I competitors. She then shot an 85 and finished second at the Williams College Lady Eph Invitational, and brimmed with confidence at the end of her first fall season.
Foran shot a career-low 77 and won the Williams College Lady Eph Invitational in a playoff.
“There was definitely an adjustment, going from nine-hole after-school matches to 36-hole weekend tournaments,” she says. “It was a lot more intense than high school, but I’d been playing in women’s events since I was 16, so I wasn’t really intimidated.”
That spring, with Foran playing perhaps her best golf, the Jeffs won the Wellesley Inn/Hartford Invitational, finished third at the Massachusetts State Championships (ahead of Boston University and Holy Cross, among others), placed sixth at the Northeast Championships and qualified for their second consecutive NCAA Division III Championship Tournament, to be held at the Orchards Golf Club in nearby South Hadley.
“Coming into a tournament we’d never played before [Amherst declined its invitation in 2001 because the travel conflicted with final exams], we were clearly the underdogs. But we played the Orchards at least 10 times that year and were very familiar with the course. I knew exactly how far that stream was on number one, which bunkers to avoid and how the greens broke.”
The local knowledge came in handy. Foran opened with a career-low 81 under a torrential downpour, and followed that with an 80 on Wednesday and another 81 on Thursday. Suddenly, the precocious freshman found herself in second place and in the hunt for a national championship on the final day of competition.
“I was also dealing with finals at the time,” says Foran. “I had an intro to chemistry and an intro to physics exam as soon as I got off the van at school. During my matches, if I had a moment, I actually had a sheet in my pack with chemical and physical equations on it that I’d study for my tests. I think it helped me play better. It kept me from focusing too much on consequences.”
She shot an 85 in the final round to finish in a four-way tie for fourth place, leading Amherst to a third-place team finish that Morgan said “was like winning the national championship.” Among the top finishers, which included 44-year-old Thomas More College sophomore Lynn Thompson, who won the individual crown by seven strokes, Foran was the only freshman. The following week, she was named an Honorable Mention All-American by the National Golf Coaches Association.
“It was a sudden shock,” she says. “When we got close to nationals we all wanted to play well and part of me wanted to have a strong showing, but I’d never really played on that level so I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t register that I’d been playing against Division I competition all season long, so I really had no way of judging the level of competition.”
She’s continued making strides as a sophomore. After a somewhat sluggish start to her second fall season, Foran shot a spectacular tournament- and career-low 77 and won the Williams College Lady Eph Invitational in a playoff.
Her father says, “What happens in a golfer is you move in stages. Once you break through a particular barrier, then you believe that you belong there.”
Breaking 80 on a consistent basis would go a long way toward her chances of gaining the national crown, but winning an NCAA title isn’t really her goal. An outstanding student committed to the sciences, Foran recently declared neuroscience as her major, and hopes to one day work with degenerative brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The heavy course-load that requires cuts into her practice time; she often foregoes afternoon practices for lab work.
Morgan still believes Foran can be one of the best players ever to tee it up at Amherst. “She’s already one of the top five or six golfers ever to play here. I think she could be one of the best in New England, could win a Northeast Championship and has the ability to be selected as an individual participant in the NCAA Tournament even if the team isn’t selected. She can be one of the top 10 players in the country, but all in the context of an Amherst education.”
For the little girl who loved books more than golf, that would be a storybook ending.
The Jeffs will host the 2003 Northeast Championships this Saturday and Sunday at the Hickory Ridge Country Club in Amherst.