Nov. 24, 2011
Like countless Canadian kids, Augusta James enjoyed romping on ice. She figure skated and competed fiercely in hockey, sometimes going head-to-head against rugged boys.
James also enjoyed golf. So when it came time to specialize in one sport, she left the rink for life on the links.
Good for James. And good for NC State.
Accurate off the tee and steady on the greens, the precocious freshman posted a team best 73.9 stroke average, gained a No. 47 national college ranking this fall and led coach Page Marsh's women to their finest start ever.
James' finest hour came at the Tar Heel Invitational, where she out-scored the top four-ranked players in the country and tied for second place -- one stroke behind the winner.
O Canada! O Canada!
She's part of a Canadian contingent that includes junior Amanda Baker, sophomore Brittany Marchand and freshman Vivian Tsui, who ranked second in stroke average at 74.1.
As for that foreign connection, Marsh gives a "big assist" to men's coach Richard Sykes, who raised State's golf awareness in Canada by signing players such as former All-America Matt Hill, and current All-Americas Albin Choi and Mitchell Sutton.
The women's diverse squad also includes one player from Mexico, one from Colorado, one from South Carolina and two from New Bern. Collectively, they flashed the skill and will in fall play to earn special distinction and heightened hopes for the future.
Check some achievements James and company etched:
* A 52-14-2 record, one tournament title and two wins over traditional power Duke.
* A first-ever ranking (No. 14) the Golf World Coaches Poll.
* A school-record tournament score of 864 score in the Cougar Classic.
"They are young, talented and self driven, very key components,'` said Marsh, who has guided State to nine straight NCAA regionals. "They get synergy. They fed well off each other. They are very cohesive...a fun group to coach. They have an opportunity to grow and win championships."
"We pushed each other,'' said James, who posted three of the team's top six individual rounds with two 69s and a 70.
In the four fall tournaments, different players stepped into the spotlight.
Ana Menedez led State in the Cougar Classic with a one-under 215. Amanda Baker was Wolfpack medalist at two-over 146 in the Cardinal Cup victory.
James shot an 8 under-par 208 in the Tar Heel Invitational and Tsui placed eighth to pace the Pack effort at Landfall.
Marchand, who qualified for the U.S. Open last summer, had some good moments as well in what she described as an "up and down" season.
After learning of State because of the "buzz" that swirled around Matt Hill, Marchand decided to bring her quality game to Raleigh. But sometimes the erudite student tends to over-think.
That she's an All-American Scholar Athlete who carved a 3.8 GPA in chemical engineering last semester might have something to do with her analytical approach.
"My mental game is not up to my physical game," Marchand said. "I get all these thoughts if my game goes sideways. I'm very technical. I've got to get my head into it, build up my confidence and be more consistent."
"She's very talented,'' Marsh affirmed. "She knows her best golf is ahead as she is able to mature."
Marsh, in her 12th season at State, guides the Pack with a steady hand and calming demeanor. As a former star at North Carolina, the 1989 North-South Amateur winner and a six-time N.C. Women's Amateur Champion, she can empathize with her players stroke-by-stroke.
"She's easy to play for,'' James said.
But the game is fickle and far from easy. Marsh is fond of saying, while "we love golf...golf doesn't always love us back."
However, golf loved Augusta James back in her first college semester.
She posted her 73.9 stroke average over 11 testy rounds, had one top 10 finish, and placed in the top 12 twice in the four events.
"She's got a great mix of humility, inner confidence and a joy about the game,'' Marsh said. "She's not afraid. She's got moxie. (And) she's always asking me what more can she do. She's eager to keep growing."
James had multiple college choices and diligently researched other programs before signing with State.
"Not a school I looked at had it all bundled together like State,'' she said, referring to coaching, academics, facilities, climate, location and the overall "comfortable" feel. "N.C. State has done it right."
With a methodical approach, James has done it right on the course so far.
Her pre-shot routine consists of two practice swings, picking out a target, then shooting for it. That method resulted in reaching a high percentage of greens, followed by an improved putting touch.
If there's a quirk in her style, it might be found in her golf bag. She carries a rock given to her by team psychologist Cathy Hedgepeth.
But James doesn't consider it as any kind of lucky charm. However, the small stone could be viewed as a symbol of her rock-solid start with the improving Wolfpack.
By A.J. Carr