April 1, 2008
by Jeff Smith
It had been three weeks since Lauren Harling transferred to the Indiana women's golf team from NC State. Granted a full release from the school after the 2006 fall season, she was able to compete immediately for IU the following spring. Hoosier head coach Clint Wallman inquired one day last spring how she was fitting in with her new teammates and to his delight, one of his freshmen told him she couldn't even remember what it was like not having Harling on the team.
At that moment, Wallman knew he had someone special.
It can be tough on both a player and a coach, regardless of the sport, when the player's initial college decision does not work out as they hoped it would. For Harling, a native of North Carolina, she felt she was unable to contribute in a manner that she expected of herself, so she opted to look elsewhere for her final two seasons of school.
Looking back, it was a decision that was not only the right one to make, but also one that was surprisingly easy.
"I didn't have a problem at all fitting right into the mix at Indiana," Harling said. "The girls were very accepting and great to be around. They have become my little family away from home."
In her early years of college, Harling said that often her team would be divided into a number of groups of friends, but at Indiana it is a different environment.
"Here all eight of us stick together and stand up for each other."
It is an atmosphere that Wallman has worked hard to create in his four years in Bloomington. Fielding a relatively young squad in each of those seasons, Wallman has benefited from his players taking ownership in the team and each other. The self-described "keeper of the program" is proud of his team's efforts and says Harling has been a major component to the team's success.
This past weekend, she earned her first individual tournament title with a career performance at the Mountain View Collegiate in Tucson, Ariz. With a 1-under-par effort, Harling earned a one-stroke victory with a score of 215 (73-70-72). Just two weeks ago, Harling earned her first career Big Ten Golfer of the Week honor when she recorded then-personal bests of a 16th-place finish and a 216 (74-72-70) at the UNLV Spring Invitational.
"It was an honor and nice to be recognized," Harling said of her weekly award. "Right now I am playing really well and I think that is from learning to not put so much pressure on myself. You just have to allow yourself to go play."
Wallman says Harling has not only improved her play physically, but mentally as well.
"She has improved her wedges and putting, but the best thing has been above her shoulders," he said. "She is identifying the shots she needs to hit and going out and doing it. She's taking what the golf course gives her and making the best out of each shot."
In an individual sport such as golf, posting low scores and winning tournaments typically invokes a sense of leadership. The one who is shooting par and winning events is probably going to be the team leader, right?
Well maybe, but Wallman has recently noticed Harling leading in a different manner. Despite having only played three semesters at Indiana, the seasoned veteran has been instilling positive reinforcement in her team. Wallman says when Harling first arrived on campus, she was relatively quiet and went about her business. But now that she has become comfortable in her role on the team, she has been more vocal in her support.
"She was sitting on the plane with one of the girls on the way back from her win in Arizona, and she said, "You would have beaten me by 10 shots if you would have hit some putts,'" Wallman said. "For her to say that says a lot about a person. She took that opportunity to point out the fact that many of these girls have beaten her in qualifying so there is no reason why they can't go out and win a tournament."
When looked at in that manner, Wallman believes it's easy for his players to be inspired. The irony of it all was when Harling was seeking out a place to play last year, she in turn was the one looking to be inspired. And she found that in Wallman.
"I was inspired by Coach Wallman and the things he believed in," Harling said. "(Indiana) has inspired me to be the best I can be."
During her search, Harling admitted that she was unsure whether or not she even wanted to play golf again. In her first two seasons at NC State, she played in eight tournaments and tied for 35th at the 2005 NCAA East Regional. But despite being named the team's Most Improved Player that season, something was missing for Harling.
Continuing to play the game she learned to love as a high school freshman in her hometown of Laurinburg, N.C., located on the South Carolina border and 90 minutes from college in Raleigh, just didn't feel right all of the sudden.
When it came time to seek out another school, it was education that took priority, and then golf. Harling was looking for schools with prominent business programs and golf teams looking for contributors. After contacting Wallman, Harling was sold on Indiana, its Kelley School of Business, and the golf team.
She was convinced it was going to be fun again, and if one could not get excited about the Hoosiers' season last year, then one did not have a pulse.
Harling made an immediate impact on the 2007 squad, helping Indiana record back-to-back rounds of 285 - the second-lowest total in school history - at the UNLV Spring Invitational. The Hoosiers would later shatter their 54-hole record of 885 by 21 shots with a fourth-place finish at the event with a score of 864 (285-285-294). Less than two months later, Indiana qualified for the NCAA Central Regional - its first bid under Wallman - and placed fourth overall. The finish was good enough to earn the Hoosiers their first NCAA Championship invitation since 1998.
"It was really exciting, but it was also something we kind of expected of ourselves," Harling said. "It would have been a big disappointment if we hadn't done it. We had a special group and we were all able to return this year."
And with just months left in her collegiate career, you get a feeling talking to Harling that she wishes her stay at Indiana could be extended. Perhaps most intriguing is the renewed energy she has for the game, even going as far as to say that she would rather push aside using her finance and real estate degree to continue in golf, possibly as a coach.
"I'm not ready to let golf go," she said.
That is something that pleases Indiana's keeper of the program. Wallman says he encourages his players to adopt his philosophy that one day when it comes time to leave, the program is in better shape than it was when they inherited it.
The commitment made by Harling and her teammates makes one believe the program will be just fine in the years to come.
"We have devoted ourselves to each other and promised each other we are going to work as hard as we can," she said. "And if anyone falls back, we are going to be right there to pick them up."