If golf was a straight-line progression where everything graphed steadily upward, why would we watch? Struggle is part of the appeal, perhaps the biggest part. That’s why it’s so rewarding to see a player like Lauren Coughlin play well enough to be tied for the early first-round lead in the ISPS Handa World Invitational presented by AVIV Clinics. Without the downs, like missing three consecutive cuts coming into this week, rounds like the 5-under par 67 the 29-year-old shot at Massereene Golf Club in Northern Ireland on Thursday wouldn’t mean as much.
Coughlin summed up that attitude after her round when she said, “Past results don't necessarily mean (whatever is happening in your game is) going to continue. I try to live that as best as possible.”
She was speaking of the last month or so of her LPGA Tour season, which has been, in her words “a rough couple of weeks the last few weeks between (the Amundi) Evian (Championship) and (the Women’s) Scottish (Open) and then the (AIG Women’s) British.” But she could have been ruminating on the ups and downs of her career – of anyone’s career, especially in a game where the knife’s edge between victory and losing your job remains ever sharp and perilous.
Coughlin is what tour veterans call a grinder. She was a successful amateur at the University of Virginia who won the ACC Championship in her senior year as she was getting a degree in psychology. After that she finished 36th at the first LPGA Tour Q Series, earning her LPGA Tour card for 2018. From there, it’s been up and down.
That’s what makes the Epson Tour such a godsend for so many in the women’s game. Coughlin won an Epson Tour event, the PHC Classic, as a non-member is 2018. But as happens many times with players, she found herself back on the road to the LPGA in 2019. That year, Coughlin played 20 tournament and had four top-10s. Her best Epson Tour finish was a runner-up at the SKYiGolf Championship.
During that stretch, she realized the weaknesses in her game. The Epson Tour allowed her to see those coming up and those falling back, those succeeding at the next level, and those who still had some work ahead.
She knew she had to become a better putter. She still does today.
“Just the putting has kind of been my issue most of the year,” Coughlin said after the 67 on Thursday. “So I’m just trying to keep my grip pressure loose as much as possible.”
Her best finish of the year is a tie for 12th at the Shoprite LPGA Classic presented by Acer. And she hasn’t made a cut on her own since the third week of June.
Arriving in Northern Ireland, Coughlin averaged almost 32 putts per round, 158th on the LPGA Tour.
But one week can change everything. Asheigh Buhai, our newest major champion, can attest to that. So can Pajaree Anannaru, who won her first event on the LPGA Tour last year in Northern Ireland.
“Luckily putting doesn't take too much out of you,” Coughlin said. “I just kind of spend as much time, again, more just trying to get a feel for how the speed of the greens were. They roll really pure, so I knew as long as I was starting it online and had good speed, I had a good shot of (the putts) going in.”
Then she put the entire game into perspective in a way that even the novice can understand. “I think I was just trying to ease up a little bit (on myself) and not take it too seriously, just go have fun,” Coughlin said with a smile. “We did that today.”