U.S. WOMEN'S MID-AMATEUR
Greenlief Knows Amateur Path is the Right One September 8, 2016 | FAR HILLS, N.J. By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Defending champion Lauren Greenlief enjoys competing at golf's highest levels, simply for the love of the game. (USGA/Darren Carroll)

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Since the start of 2015, Lauren Greenlief’s golf game has soared to new levels and taken her to exciting places. The former walk-on for the University of Virginia women’s golf team has elevated her profile in golf circles from a regional level to the national amateur scene.

Last May, Greenlief made match play in a USGA championship for the first time in several tries when she and partner Abby Portyrata advanced to the Round of 16 in the inaugural U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball Championship at Bandon Dunes. Five months later, she dominated the field in the 29th U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship at Squire Creek Country Club in Choudrant, La., becoming the youngest winner in championship history at 25 years, 25 days. Greenlief, of Reston, Va., only trailed for two holes during her six-match run through the match-play bracket, never trailing during the final against defending champion Margaret Shirley.

Greenlief parlayed her Women’s Mid-Amateur victory into a sponsor’s exemption for the 2016 Kingsmill Championship, an LPGA Tour event in May that she had grown up attending in Williamsburg, Va. Although she missed the cut, she felt that, in many respects, she belonged.

“I hit the ball long enough, I hit the ball straight enough, I hit enough greens. It’s really just a matter of short game, which, being a mid-am, it’s one of the harder parts of the game to keep sharp,” said Greenlief, who has climbed the ladder in the amateur game while building a career in management consulting. “It did kind of reinforce to me that if it was something that I wanted to do, I could get my game to that level.”

The day after she missed the cut at Kingsmill, Greenlief joined partner Alexandra Austin in the U.S. Women’s Amateur Four-Ball at Streamsong (Fla.) Resort, where they went on to advance to the semifinals.

Given her recent success, one could forgive Greenlief if she started reconsidering her current path. In her role at Boston Consulting Group, she travels to clients up to four days a week, leaving her the weekend to keep her game sharp and select opportunities to compete. She is based in Washington, D.C., which means the winter months are essentially out when it comes to maintaining her routine.

Playing at an elite level while excelling in the business world requires  a delicate balance, so perhaps taking the plunge and going full-throttle into professional golf would be something worth pursuing. That balance, though, is much of the reason why Greenlief isn’t choosing to change course at this point in her life.

“I love being challenged in my job, and the way I think about it, I love playing golf more than I ever have at any point in the 20 years that I’ve been playing right now,” said Greenlief, whose clients are mainly major North-American retailers. “The second you make it a grind and make it your job, I worry that I will to some extent lose that love of the game. Of course, I’ve thought about [turning pro], and I’ve seen a lot of my friends from college make it to the LPGA, and are doing really well. Internally, I’m just pretty comfortable with the decision that I made.”

A three-time Virginia State Golf Association (VSGA) Women’s Stroke Play champion during her college years, Greenlief continued to be a top player at the state level, finishing as the runner-up in the 2015 VSGA Women’s Amateur. She had yet to make a major impact at the national level, though, so when she approached age eligibility for the 2015 Women’s Mid-Amateur, she made it a priority to get her game in top shape. She worked it out with her employer to spend the summer on a research project, giving her fewer client obligations and more time to practice and compete. Since her victory, she has returned to a full-time client-facing role, but is able to take Friday afternoons off in order to begin her weekend practice routine.

Her routine has become pretty regimented, with efficiency in mind. Stepping into a real-world profession has meant that golf often has to take a backseat.

“My typical week is, I fly out Monday morning, work on-site with my client until Thursday afternoon, at which point I fly back to D.C. During the week, people ask me if there’s time for golf and generally the answer is no,” she explained. “I don’t bring my clubs up there, so they’re in the garage Monday through Thursday, but I try and get my workout schedule in while I’m on the road. I try and play Friday afternoon. I use the playing as a way to diagnose the weaker areas in my game, so I can then go focus the work that weekend on fixing those areas.”

The amount of juggling it takes to keep Greenlief at the top of her game may partially explain why there aren’t more competitors in her age group. Of the 132 players scheduled to tee it up this weekend in the Women’s Mid-Amateur at The Kahkwa Club, only a third are in the 25-34 age group, the first 10 years of eligibility. With work and family obligations, golf often gets put on the back burner for so many female mid-amateurs who had made it a priority during high school and college. Greenlief, who will turn 26 during the Women’s Mid-Amateur, sees it firsthand, and understands the challenges her peers face.

“Leading up to turning 25, I still competed in the U.S. [Women’s] Amateur and all over the place, but it was a lot of effort to stay at that level and compete with the college kids and younger, so I think that can be a little bit intimidating,” she said. “I see a lot of my friends picking the game up again in their late 20s, when they are a little more settled in their career and they have this national championship to work toward every year.”

While professional golf may be off the table for now, that doesn’t mean Greenlief is satisfied with simply winning a Women’s Mid-Amateur title. Her goals include successfully defending her title, trying to qualify for a U.S. Women’s Open and perhaps playing her way onto the USA Curtis Cup Team. Wherever the game takes her, she knows it will be where she wanted to go.

As Greenlief noted, “A big turning point for me was, after competing in national championships for college golf, where you have all the pressure to represent your team and represent yourself and juggle that with school, I was able to take a step back when I started working and say, ‘I play golf because I love playing golf, and I play for me now.’”

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.

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