Michaux: Coble stakes her claim as best female amateur golfer

 

 

Golf’s greatest amateur, Bobby Jones, was inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1964. A strong argument can be made that he’ll finally be joined by Georgia’s best female amateur.

Augusta’s Laura Coble will be inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon on Saturday. She’s the third female amateur and sixth women’s golfer to receive the state’s highest sporting honor.

“It’s been a pretty amazing journey for me and never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame or the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame,” Coble said. “You just put your head down and do what you do and this is what’s happened since the dust cleared. It’s been pretty humbling and I feel very honored.”

Coble will be joined in the eight-person induction Class of 2017 by her golf coach at Georgia, the late Liz Murphey, as well as former Lincoln County/Georgia football star Garrison Hearst, who spent 12 years in the NFL.

“Bulldog Nation is going to be represented well,” Coble said of friends and former teammates who will be on hand to honor her and Coach Murphey. “That was a huge surprise and what an honor. Coach Liz – Murph we called her – has got quite the legacy in sports and was a trailblazer back then.”

Coble also has quite the legacy of success in Georgia golf with 28 career victories that make a strong case for being the greatest female amateur in the state’s long history. She’s won a record-sharing six Georgia Women’s Amateur championships and nine Georgia Women’s Match Play titles during a span from 1998 to 2012 when she won the Georgia State Golf Association’s Player of the Year award 14 times.

She won the Tommy Barnes Award given to the overall GSGA Player of Year in 2000, 2005 and 2009, making her the only three-time winner (male or female).

Coble also won the state women’s team title four times from 1991-2001 with three different partners and a record three biennial USGA Women’s team titles representing Georgia in 2005, ’09 and ’11.

Now eligible to compete in senior events, she’s won three consecutive Georgia Senior Women’s Amateurs and the 2015 Senior Match Play title. She reached the semifinals of last summer’s U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur, losing in 19 holes to the eventual champion.

On the national level, Coble qualified for the 2001 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles and reached the finals of the 2009 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur against college teammate Martha Stacy Leach from Savannah.

“I haven’t gotten tired of it,” Coble said of the competition. “Sometimes I get burned out trying to burn the candle at both ends with work and managing things at home and trying to prepare for tournaments. Been times in life where I haven’t been as motivated, but never tired of competing.”

Coble is in great company with the two other enshrined female amateurs who came long before Coble’s era of dominance. Dorothy “Dot” Kirby twice won the major championship Titleholders in 1941-42 at Augusta Country Club, played on four Curtis Cup teams and won the 1951 U.S. Women’s Amateur after twice before finshing runner-up. She also won six Georgia Women’s Amateur titles.

Alexa Sterling Fraser, a childhood friend of Bobby Jones at East Lake, won three U.S. Women’s Amateurs in 1916, ’19 and ’20 as well as two Canadian Opens.

“Golf is different now than it used to be in the olden days, so to speak,” Coble said. “A lot of people turned professional and didn’t stay a lifelong amateur. There are a lot of young kids playing now and all of them are going in with a goal of turning professional. It’s for others to decide how they categorize me. I just enjoy playing and love the game.”

Coble never considered playing professionally.

“I knew when I graduated from college I was not to that level,” she said. “And I was okay with that. I’m still okay with that. I don’t regret the path I took into amateur golf. It’s been very good to me. I’ve enjoyed it every step of the way and wouldn’t change a thing, actually.”

After graduating from Georgia in 1984, Coble went straight to work as a recreational therapist and one of the original employees at the newly formed Walton Rehab Hospital. She didn’t start competing again until years later after her daughter was old enough to start attending preschool.

“I started hitting balls again and sort of pushed reset on my game and tried to figure out what I was doing,” she said.

It’s safe to say she figured it out. Her golf endeavors include helping start the women’s golf program at Augusta University as a volunteer for eight years and head coach for two seasons.

But competition remains her favorite outlet, even as she plays a more limited schedule with her “golf family” on the senior level.

“It’s definitely for the love of the game now and enjoying the competition at this point in my life,” she said. “That’s what I enjoy about amateur golf. Still very competitive but social and fun.”

The Georgia Sports Hall of Fame already includes 28 inductees from the golf world including Masters Tournament champions Larry Mize and Tommy Aaron, Augusta native Jim Dent and LPGA greats Louise Suggs, Hollis Stacy and Nancy Lopez.

Fittingly, Coble’s induction weekend begins with the GSHF Golf Classic today at Idle Hour in Macon. If fellow inductees Hearst, Matt Harpring, Keith Brooking, Willie Gault, Jeff Saturday and Manny Diaz are smart, they won’t bet against Coble’s team.

 

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