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Joe Duball's NH Golf: Watt flips the switch, having best season of her life

By JOE DUBALL
August 26. 2017 10:06PM
TARA WATT 

It's funny how someone stumbles upon the peak of their golf game. Some reach the height of their game in their youth while others wait longer for their time to shine.

You'd think a former collegiate golfer like Manchester's Tara Watt, who played for Division I Gardner-Webb University (N.C.), would be among those who found success early. However, at 34 years old now, Watt is enjoying some of the most successful and enjoyable times in her golf career.

This year in particular has been one to remember for Watt, a member of Derryfield Country Club in Manchester. Her summer included setting the women's course record at Derryfield and a third-place finish at the New Hampshire Women's Golf Association Amateur Championship. She'll wrap up her 2017 golf slate with a pair of USGA events: the Women's State Team Championship Sept. 26-28 in Santa Fe, N.M., and the Women's Mid-Amateur Championship Oct. 7-12 in Naples, Fla.

"I wish I had the focus and mentality that I have now back when I was in college," Watt said. "I was kind of just living it in college. I've always loved golf, but it really wasn't No. 1 for me then. It's been the one constant in my life, though."

The turning point for Watt's game wasn't exactly quick and decisive. It was a more of a grinding commitment getting her current level of play started with her NHWGA championship in 2011.

"There's always that one thing that sticks out in your head and changes you, and for me it was the State Am," Watt said. "When I won, I kind of realized I could do this and that I was good enough to win tournaments. You just have to believe in yourself."

Watt added that an individual's game is always there but a player "has to trust it and go with the confidence." The performances this summer are showing that the firm belief in her skill is paying off.

Watt had never shot better than 1-under-par at Derryfield before her record-setting 5-under on July 15. Further evidence came Tuesday when she finished second out of 24 golfers at the Mid-Amateur qualifier at Blue Hill CC in Canton, Mass.

"I had never done anything like that of before or even really tried," said Watt of the qualifier, which had players from all over New England and even had a player fly in from Ireland.

"I honestly went into it thinking that there was no way I'd make it. People try to go to these smaller qualifying sites where the field is smaller, which they see as an easier way to get in with six spots available.

"I easily could've shot even or under par, but I chunked a couple wedge shots and had two drives that got me in trouble."

Watt shot a 76 on Tuesday, which was a stroke off of the medalist, to easily earn her trip to Naples. Blue Hill was friendly to Watt because of her booming strikes off the tee.

"I got up there and hit my driver on all but one par-4 or par-5," Watt said. "I'm just super comfortable with my drives. It's something about a course and the way it sets up for your game. Blue Hills did that for me because it was playing around 6,000 yards so I could go up and hit a driver."

Before Watt hunts for the Mid-Am title, she'll team up with Betsy Knights and Paige MaCleay for the State Team Championship. This will be the fourth time Watt has represented the Granite State at the event.

"It's one of the coolest tournaments I have ever played in," Watt said. "People are always proud of where they grow up, but I'm super proud of being from New Hampshire. But coming from a state that you can golf in for six or seven months a year is tough with this event. We have to work that much harder because we are forced to take the winters off."

As if her fall schedule wasn't packed enough with her tournament play, Watt will also begin another season as assistant women's golf coach at Southern New Hampshire University this week. SNHU's women's program is still in its infancy as it heads into its fifth season with just handful of players rostered.

Watt, entering her second season on SNHU's staff, is relishing being on the other side of the game as a mentor.

"If I had to describe (last season), it was like I was kind of their caddie," Watt said. "It was cool because I was reading putts for them, helping them with club selection and just offering a lot of positive reinforcement while they're trying to learn.

"Anybody that has ever played golf has made some of the large numbers that they were. You just have to go to the next hole thinking you can birdie the next hole and get it back. You always want to think positive."

While the last year has been filled with positives and the itch to continue making progress, Watt will relish the time off once courses begin to put pins away for the season.

"I think the majority of people who golf as much as I do look forward to November," Watt said. "I always end up realizing all I've done is play golf all summer and it does get exhausting between the play and travel. I do wish it was maybe more like two months off instead of five or six, but I enjoy that time regardless."

jduball@unionleader.com


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