Golf Spotlight: Canon-McMillan's Waller winning the fair way against male competition


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Lauren Waller says she doesn't usually get that look anymore, at least not to her face, but yes, she's seen it -- and no, it never gets old.

This isn't the hey-there's-a-girl-on-the-course double take that unsuspecting competitors occasionally give on the first tee. This look is the empty, ego-shattering, did-I really-just-get-beat-by-a-girl look that Waller has gotten to know during her standout career on the Canon-McMillan boys golf team.

As a sophomore last year, Waller placed second in the girls WPIAL championship tournament and third at the PIAA meet. But since Canon-Mac doesn't have a girls golf team, she's just made a habit of dominating play against the boys.

"I think teams that aren't used to having a girl on the team are a little confused for a second," Waller said. "Then when I beat them, they're a little upset."

Waller, a 16-year-old junior, isn't the first girl to play on a boys golf team in the WPIAL, but she's certainly one of the best. She's been the medalist at two boys events in the past week alone and has interest from big-name colleges, including Penn State and Louisville.

"What she does exceptionally well is she practices a lot," Big Macs coach Justin White said. "Even whens she's not practicing with the team, she practices at home, she practices at her club. Pretty darn close to year-round, she's playing golf. Because she knows the importance of playing and keeping up with your game."

Waller began golf lessons at age 10. She got into the sport through her father but says she now beats him regularly, chalking the wins up to one simple factor: "He doesn't practice as much."

But even as her game has advanced, her drive to excel is still rooted in her family.

"Golfing is pretty much my life," Waller said. "Since I was younger I've always wanted to be very good at a sport and ultimately pay for my own college and not have to have my parents pay for college

"So if I became a decent golfer, I knew how many opportunities there were. I have been given the resources by my parents, taking the time, effort and money to [make me] a better player, so I know that I need to practice to become a better player and make them proud and ultimately get a college scholarship and be the best player I can absolutely be."

The only asterisk you could put on Waller's success against the boys is that she's allowed to play from tees that somewhat shorten the length of holes.

"The WPIAL allows girls ... to play 85 percent of the distance that the boys play while they're on the boys team," White said. "It depends on the course. What the coaches have to do is figure out what is as close to 85 percent of the total distance of the course that the boys play, and that's what she'll play.

"What that usually boils down to is playing the forward tees on par-4 and -5 holes and playing the [men's] tees on par 3s."

Boys will be boys, of course, and they occasionally make a comment to Waller about playing from the shorter red tees.

She takes it in stride.

"Some people do kind of say like, 'Wow, your tees are way far up there' or whatever, but honestly I'm used to playing from the whites [men's middle-distance tees] anyway. When I'm at home I play from the whites. When I'm in big-time tournaments [she played in the junior PGA championship this summer], I play from the whites. So they do occasionally [say something] but not a lot."

"They can say whatever they want, that's a PIAA rule," White added. "The WPIAL has accepted it. Even if they did say anything, there's nothing they can do about it. We gear to 85 percent of the distance of the course that the boys play."

Waller could always use the classic "scoreboard" comeback, since she's usually at the top of it, but so far she hasn't really needed any trash talking.

"Some of them feel like I have an advantage," she concluded, "but I like beating them anyway."

hsother

Nick Veronica: nveronica@post-gazette.com and Twitter @NickVeronica. First Published September 6, 2013 8:00 AM


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