Virginia’s Lauren Coughlin takes her shot at Women’s PGA Championship

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It was November 2021, and Lauren Coughlin was almost out.

The 2016 ACC Women’s Golfer of the Year at the University of Virginia was about to finish her second full season on the LPGA Tour, and it could’ve been her last one for a while. With one tournament left, the Pelican Women’s Championship, the Chesapeake, Va., native was in 106th place in the LPGA standings. She’d have to crack the top 100 to secure an LPGA Tour Card for 2022.

With a 9-under-271 in Belleair, Fla., to tie for 16th, Coughlin did just that. But now, not even midway through the 2022 season, Coughlin is trying to avoid falling into the same trap.

“I really enjoyed my offseason,” Coughlin said on Wednesday, walking away from the sixth hole of the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. Coughlin was midway through a practice round before the start of the Women’s PGA Championship on Thursday when the inclement weather horn blared.

“I just took a little too much time for myself.”

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Whether it was the time off or tough competition, Coughlin started the season on the wrong foot, missing the cut at five of her first six tour events. By the end of April, all she had to show for her efforts was a tied-for-32nd finish at the JTBC Classic.

It might’ve been early, but Coughlin knew this was a situation ripe for stress.

It was in those moments, Coughlin said, that conversations with her husband — former Virginia offensive lineman John Pond, who walked the course with her on Wednesday — helped bring her back into the present.

“[I’m] just trying to be myself, enjoy and have fun,” Coughlin said. “And I think if I do that, then good things will happen.”

And good things started happening.

Coughlin finished tied for 35th at the Cognizant Founders’ Cup in May. Then she opened June with the biggest paycheck of her career, $29,010, after tying for 12th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

“At ShopRite was the first time I’ve ever been in a final group out here,” Coughlin said. “And so I think it just kind of took a lot out of me mentally.”

That “mental hangover” led her to missing the cut at the Meijer LPGA Classic the next week. She sits at 90th in the LPGA standings as she prepares to tee off at 7 a.m. Thursday in her third major championship at a Congressional course that will test her skills.

Coughlin prides herself on her distance, particularly with her hybrids and long irons. On a course playing at 6,831 yards, an adept long game is a powerful ally. Coughlin ranks 42nd on the tour in average drive distance and 37th in driving accuracy.

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And while she’s 17th in greens in regulation this year, she’s 139th in putts per greens in regulation and 153rd in putting average. If she’s unlucky enough to land in a bunker, her chances become even worse, ranking 156th on the tour in sand save percentage.

“It’s pretty generous off the fairways, but the bunkers look pretty penal,” said 2019 PGA Championship winner Hannah Green. “The greens are quite slow, but I don’t think they can make them any quicker because of the severity of the slope, so I think getting used to that is going to be one of the challenges. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see girls miss putts short.”

A tough course and crowded field stand between Coughlin and her first made cut at a major. But she’s beaten the odds before, whether it was clawing her way back to a tour card last season or pulling herself out of a slump this season.

At least this time, Coughlin won’t be alone. Her parents, brother and in-laws are just some of the many family members and friends driving up from Chesapeake to watch her play.

“It’s going to be really cool,” she said. “And then, you know, whenever I go home on Sunday, it’s only a two-hour drive.”

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