Preparing in June for the Richmond Golf Association Amateur Championship, Mark Lawrence played a round with a buddy to help knock the rust off his competitive game.
After the friendly 18 holes with Peter Gasperini, a former Radford golfer who has transferred to Virginia Commonwealth, it finally dawned on Lawrence what he was getting set to do in the city amateur. He’d forgotten just how long it had been since he’d gotten through a whole tournament before the coronavirus pandemic, which has seriously affected his career plans.
“I got home and realized that I hadn’t played an actual full tournament since October,” said Lawrence, a Richmond native who has one season of eligibility remaining at Virginia Tech. “The only event at Tech we got to play in the spring was (in Puerto Rico), and it only ended up being 18 holes because of rain. It was kind of maddening not being able to play competitive golf for that long.”
Annoying? Sure, but it turns out the competitive layoff hasn’t harmed Lawrence’s game at all.
Though he bowed out in the quarterfinals of the Richmond amateur at Meadowcreek Country Club, Lawrence bounced back last week by cruising to a seven-stroke win in the State Open of Virginia at Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke, posting a three-day tournament-record total of 200. His victory featured an opening-round 63 (9-under par), tying his own competitive course record he shares with club member Justin Young.
In December, Lawrence said he worked with Virginia Tech golf coach Brian Sharp to get fitted for a driver and ultimately started working with a Callaway Epic Flash off the tee after unsuccessfully cycling through several drivers. Lawrence called it “one of the greatest equipment changes” he’s ever made.
It paid off at Ballyhack, where had 18 birdies and just two bogeys during the tournament.
“I think my ball-striking was really good,” said Lawrence, who had finished runner-up twice in the tournament before winning last Saturday. “Every time I hit my driver, I hit the fairway. I don’t hit too many drivers (at Ballyhack), but my driver was good on the holes where I needed it.
“It’s funny. I didn’t like (Ballyhack) very much when I first went out there in 2014 when I was 16 years old, but it’s now become one of my favorite golf courses.”
Next for Lawrence is the Virginia State Golf Association Amateur Championship from Aug. 3-7 at River Bend Club in Great Falls. He has fond memories of the state amateur, having won medalist honors at the ‘18 tournament, but he was hoping to have other plans this summer.
If the pandemic hadn’t ruined his spring and summer, he’d have turned pro. He’s already graduated from Virginia Tech, where he majored in Finance.
Now, with qualifying opportunities for major pro golf tours canceled, he’s set on returning to Tech for one more season, since it presents him with the best chance at playing against consistently good competition. Spring sports athletes at Tech will have their scholarship years honored after their seasons were wiped out by the pandemic.
“It definitely changed my plans,” said Lawrence, who has joined World Golf Hall of Famer and fellow Richmond product Lanny Wadkins as the only golfers to win the State Open, the Virginia State Amateur and the Virginia Junior Championship. “I was certainly going to turn pro this summer, but with all this stuff going on, there’s not really an opportunity to turn pro. There was no real intent on going back to school. … It never even crossed my mind.
“I’m just hoping we’re going to get to play some (in 2020 at Virginia Tech). I don’t know what’s going to happen with everything going on.”
Norm Wood, 757-247-4642, firstname.lastname@example.org
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