ROGERS, ARK | She showed up in the darkest part of the night, during those can’t-see-your-hand-in-front-of-your-face hours when you’d expect to be rolling over for a few more minutes of REM sleep. Only one insomniac was shuffling through the hotel lobby at 5:00 a.m. on Friday when Lauren Coughlin marched out the elevator with her golf bag over her shoulder, primed and ready for the first round of the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship presented by P&G.
“My coach is here, and I was picking him up and then heading to the golf course, so he didn't have to take the shuttle over and everything,” Coughlin said. “I got here about 5:35 and ate breakfast. I started warming up an hour, ten minutes before my tee time.
In the dark.
“It was very dark,” she said. “Didn't really start seeing the ball-flight until I was hitting my drivers. That’s when it finally got light enough that I was seeing the ball go. So very dark.”
Luckily, the 29-year-old Virginian enjoyed being in the first group out at Pinnacle Country Club. Getting her opening tee shot airborne flushed out a knot of nerves.
“I was pretty anxious and nervous to start the week,” Coughlin said. “I kind of knew that it was more the waiting game, and once the week got going and I got into the golf, that's my happy place. I knew once I got in the groove of (the first round) it would go away, and it did.”
Her early anxiety had little to do with Pinnacle Country Club or the event itself.
Coughlin entered this week 94th in the Race to the CME Globe with only three more full-field events after the Walmart. While a lot of attention will be paid to the top 60 and the largest winner’s check in women’s golf at the CME Group Tour Championship, the drama between numbers 85 to 110 in the next month is the story within the story. Players in that range are walking a tightrope between exempt status for 2022 and a winter trip to Q Series.
In addition to the early start, Coughlin’s anxiety was calmed by the way she played during the first round in Arkansas. She rolled in a 28-footer for eagle on the final hole to shoot a 7-under par 64, the lowest individual round of her career (she has posted lower in a team event, The Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational).
“I putted really well today,” Coughlin said. “I took advantage of some of the shorter holes on the front nine, 1 and 5, and then I had a really good par save on 8. I hit it left and was really blocked out. Got up and down from about 30 yards. That kept me going.”
She made birdie on 11 and bogey on 12, her only bogey of the day.
“But then rolled in about a 30-footer on the next hole for birdie to keep it going. I was just seeing lines really well and had really good speed on a lot of putts, so they just kept seeming to go in.”
Though Coughlin knows where she stands, not just going into Saturday’s second round, but in the overall LPGA Tour standings, she’s embracing the pressure that comes with life on the bubble.
“I think I learned over the years, or I’m starting to finally learn, that leaving it in and bottling it up doesn't help,” she said. “Getting it out and talking about it, even just saying, ‘I'm anxious, I'm nervous,’ can kind of make it go away.”
Thankfully, she has the perfect listener to vent those feelings.
“I had a big, long talk with my husband about it on Monday,” Coughlin said. “We talked for like an hour on the phone. He always seems to have really good words of wisdom for me. I think it’s because we've been together ten years and married four and a half.”
Pond is not a professional sports psychologist. He’s better than that. He’s an athlete. Pond was a 6’3” 330-pound offensive lineman for the Virginia Cavaliers, which is where he and Lauren met.
“He gets sports, and I think, really, he gets me,” she said. “That is what it is.
“And he's very smart, intelligent, good with words. He just always seems to know what to say to get me to calm down.”