Despite age and injuries and a constant influx of younger talent, Laura Coble remains the gold standard in Georgia women’s golf.
“I love the game and love competing,” said Coble, the 48-year-old Hall of Famer from Augusta Country Club. “It’s still a challenge to me.”
The challenge is mostly internal, as Coble won her sixth career Georgia Women’s Amateur Championship last week at Deer Creek in Savannah, a course where she won the Southern Amateur in 2005. Coble shot three consecutive rounds of even-par 72 to win by three strokes over runner-up Kathryn Fowler, a redshirt junior on the University of Mississippi’s golf team who finished third in 2008 and ’10.
Coble’s first state amateur victory in five years felt as good as her first title in 1999.
“It is rewarding,” Coble said. “The last time I won the state amateur was in 2007. It’s in the summertime now so the young girls get to play. It’s very competitive. So I wasn’t really sure that I would ever win another one, honestly.”
Coble’s tournament schedule might be smaller these days – she’s only competing in four events this season – but her efficiency hasn’t waned. In May she won the Georgia Women’s Match Play Championship at Sunset Hills for the ninth time in the 15 years it has been conducted by the Georgia State Golf Association. Since 1991, she’s won 22 statewide competitions, including three Women’s Team Championships and four Greater Atlanta Women’s Amateurs.
With a record like that, it’s no wonder Coble has been named the GSGA Women’s Golfer of the Year 13 of the last 14 years. That’s likely to climb to 14 of 15 after her 2-for-2 start in 2012.
That would be a nice way to go into the Georgia Golf Hall of Fame on top of her game. Coble will be inducted Jan. 19 in a ceremony at Atlanta Athletic Club.
“They were kind enough give me the nod this year and I’m very humble and grateful,” she said.
It is a worthy tribute for someone who continues to succeed despite all of the obstacles that age has thrown her way. In the interim between state amateur wins, Coble has had knee surgery and various other nagging ailments forcing her to “learn to get more out of my game with less effort.”
“I keep coming back to it,” she said of golf. “It’s a balancing act I’ve had to learn. I’ve had injuries the last couple of years and it’s a work in progress trying to figure out the right combination of work and practice. But I love to practice so that’s probably a problem for me. I’ve had to learn to temper that a little bit.”
Yet when she gets one grip on a trophy, prying it away from her steady grip is something few can do. Fowler found that out last week when, despite throwing four consecutive birdies at Coble early in the final round, she never got closer than two strokes. Coble got up-and-down for saves six of eight opportunities in the final round.
“There’s never a waver in her game, and it’s like you never see her hit a bad shot,” Fowler told the Savannah Morning News. “She’s a legend, and it’s fitting she would win this year when she’s about to be inducted into the hall of fame.”
Beating golfers less than half her age helps keep Coble going.
“They’re very talented and the young girls can hit it a long way,” she said. “They push all of us older girls to get better and stronger. That’s one of the things I enjoy.”
In two years, Coble will be eligible to start going against her peers in the senior division, adding a whole new frontier of championships to conquer if her body’s willing.
“I’ve got quite a few friends who play at the senior level, they have a lot of fun and it’s still very competitive,” she said. “I can’t believe I’ll be 50 in a couple of years but I guess I better take hold of that reality. It’s just a number.”
But she’s not yet ready to give up taking on all comers. One more Georgia Women’s Amateur victory and she’ll tie fellow hall of famer Ceil Maclaurin for the all-time record. Maclaurin won seven times from 1965-75.
“I had the pleasure of knowing Ceil,” Coble said. “She was quite the competitor. That’s really nice to come close to her record.”
Future generations of women’s golfers in Georgia will be saying the same of Coble before long.