Hard work paying off for Barrett

Taylor Barrett works on her game at the Spring Lake Country Club.
Taylor Barrett works on her game at the Spring Lake Country Club.

YORK -- Taylor Barrett took last Friday off.

It doesn't happen often, but after her freshman season playing golf at South Carolina and a busy summer playing in tournaments, Barrett needed a breather.

She was back on the course the next day, hitting golf balls on the driving range at York's Spring Lake Country Club before playing nine holes.

It's been a grueling year, but Barrett knows if she wants to reach the top she has to keep plugging away. Barrett does it because she loves it.

"It's been a good year,'' she said. "I had a lot of fun playing college golf. It's a different level than in high school. I got the experience I need to play at the college level and improved my game.

"The best thing I learned was how to manage myself on the golf course. I rarely go a day without playing, but I do take some days off every now and then. But most days, I play or hit balls for at least two hours.''

USC played five matches in the fall and six in the spring. The team finished fourth in the SEC tournament, but Barrett wasn't on the travel roster for the event. She missed making it by a stroke.

Barrett had classes from 8 a.m. until noon. The team practiced and worked out four hours afternoons Monday, Wednesday and Friday. After practice, Barrett went back to her room to shower before heading off to the required six hours of study hall each week for freshmen the first semester.

It's good she learned to manage her time. Barrett maintained a 4.0 grade-point average this year, just like she did at York Comprehensive High School when she was valedictorian of her graduating class.

Barrett has played in five big tournaments this summer, the biggest so far July 5 at the Sapona Country Club in Lexington, N.C. She was there to qualify for the USGA Women's Amateur, which will be played Aug. 6-11 at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind.

When the tournament concluded, 12 players were tied for the final five spots behind the nine who had already qualified . Barrett, who shot a 73, birdied the third playoff hole to secure a trip to Indiana.

"It's a very big tournament,'' Barrett said. "Anybody who is anybody in college golf and not a pro will be there. It will be good experience for me. I'll be playing against the best amateurs in the country and the competition will be exceptional.

"When I birdied the third playoff hole, it was big because I knew I had won a spot. The way things have gone during my career, I'm starting to feel like I'm the playoff queen.''

Barrett makes a good point.

On May 30, she was in a six-way tie for the spots in the USGA Women's Public Links in Chapel Hill, N.C. She birdied the second playoff hole to earn a spot.

Her junior season at York, Barrett and Summerville's Mallory Hetzel tied for medalist honors at the Class AAAA state championship at Lancaster Golf Club. There was no playoff system, so they shared champion honors.

During Barrett's senior season, she and Aiken's Meredith Few were tied for the top spot when the tournament ended, but a playoff had been added. Barrett sank a 25-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole and won the championship.

Standing back from the crowd, USC golf coach Kristi Coggins stood with Barrett's mom and dad, Richard and Denise Barrett, and watched as the drama unfolded.

"Taylor is an awesome player and person,'' said Coggin, South Carolina's coach the last 13 years. "She is a listener and I've always thought people who listen go further in life. Her freshman season was tough on her, but she adjusted well and contributed. She made a big impact her first year.

"She will be a leader for us this year. We expect her to be on the course every match the rest of her career because we need her head in the game. She's patient, she's smart and I like her style. I don't want to ever go into another match without her in the lineup.''

Barrett was the Class AAA Player of the Year in 2003 and Class AAAA Player of the Year in 2004 and 2005 in high school. She played on York's boys team in the spring.

She won 14 junior tournaments, including the SCJGA All-Stars Championship, The Players Championship, the Twin States Junior Girls Golf Championship and the Palmetto Preview High School Girls Golf Tournament. She also won the 2005 Joe Cheves Junior Invitational.

Her goal now is to climb to the top of college golf and maybe play on the pro circuit. In high school, she played in tournaments with pros Michelle Wie, Brittany Lincicome, Morgan Pressel, Paula Creamer, In-bee Park and Angela Park.

"It's a lot of fun for me to watch those girls go out and play in LPGA tournaments and win a lot of money,'' Barrett said. "Those checks they get are huge.

"Having played in the same groups with several of them and against the others, it's nice to be able to watch them on TV and pull for them. Brittany and I have become good friends, so I pull the hardest for her. She's a very good person and it was fun playing with her.''

Maybe some day, younger golfers will be able to say the same about Barrett.

She was runner-up to Burlington, N.C.'s Kristen Vincent at the Carolina's Golf Association Women's Match Play Championship last week in Stanley, N.C.

She played in this year's USGA Women's Public Links in Lexington, Ky., in June, but missed the cut by three strokes.

Barrett has a college career to think about and now that she's adjusted to the competitiveness at that level, she's ready to get back to work.

"The difference in college is that every player is good,'' Barrett said. "At practice, we have challenge matches that determine which players get to play in matches. It can get very competitive.''

Barry Byers • 329-4099