Lauren Hartlage (left) with Coach Courtney Trimble (Adam Creech/Louisville Athletics)
MELBOURNE, Fla. – For the Hartlage family, an invitation to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur was worth its weight in gold. Forgive the postman for the sacrilege committed by leaving it on the front porch unattended.
Kim Hartlage laughs when she thinks about the day that much-anticipated invitation arrived for her daughter Lauren. Soon after, she drove from the family’s Elizabethtown, Ky., home to the University of Louisville, to deliver it in person.
“I thought, ‘How could you leave that there?’ He had no idea what he was dropping off,” Kim said. “It could have been a million dollars, and he wouldn’t know. That’s probably what it was worth to her.”
Augusta National is the biggest stage for a player like Lauren, who likes the comfort of playing in-state, 40 miles from her home and at a university also attended by older sister Ashley. In two and a half years, her confidence has soared along with her ranking. She is currently No. 55 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking and earned her spot in the ANWA by being one of the top 30-ranked Americans at the start of the year.
This week will be game-changing simply for that fact.
“Lauren is one of those that the confidence factor has not always been there,” Kim Hartlage said. “She was not always sure she could do it – she was the smallest, the youngest, the littlest. She always saw herself like that.”
Hartlage's evolution as a player in her two and a half years on the Louisville roster has been exceptional. Coaches Courtney Trimble and Whitney Young have pumped her full of confidence and built her game – namely around the greens. Surrounded by seven other women on the roster who can play
, it's easy to see how Hartlage found her way here.
The ANWA became a goal for Lauren as soon as she heard it announced, and she eagle-eyed the rankings for the next 10 months.
“Being able to play Augusta is probably every golfer’s dream,” Lauren said, but it’s hard to put further words to it than that. Part of that is because there’s no visual for women. Lauren has a better one than most players in her arena.
There are few golf moms like Kim Hartlage. She has nurtured her daughter in a game that brought her many blessings. Kim played college golf at Western Kentucky and coached high school girls golf at Elizabethtown High School, where Lauren played on her team, until it conflicted with Louisville’s travel schedule. She tries to get to as many of the team’s tournaments as possible.
“I’m so excited that Lauren has been able to do some of the things that I’ve only dreamed of,” Kim said, naming not just the ANWA, but also the NCAA Women’s Championship and every other tournament where Lauren can seriously compete
Trimble is an advocate for going after those things. She is deeply embedded in the sport, having been an All-American at Auburn and a member of the 2002 U.S. Curtis Cup team. She played the Symetra Tour for two years before returning to college golf.
“Golf is creating opportunities,” as she often says to her players.
Related: What does it take to earn an ANWA invitation? Here are 72 answers
With all the other duties that come with college coaching, it’s no small task putting on a tournament. Trimble did it three times this year – and twice outside state lines. She hosted the inaugural Alexa Stirling Women’s Intercollegiate at Atlanta Athletic Club, which has hosted a Ryder Cup, a U.S. Open and a PGA Championship. Trimble grew up as a member there, which opened doors for her, and she paid it forward. It’s a top venue for a regular-season women’s college golf event.
Seven years ago, Trimble was hand-picked by Louisville. It was an attractive offer when she looked at the success and support for programs across the board, not just men’s basketball and football.
She will hand off the program to assistant coach Whitney Young at the end of this season as she steps away from coaching to focus on family.
“On my way out, I’m going to be teaching you a lot,” she has told her players. “Not just golf stuff, but life stuff.”
There are 31 colleges represented at the ANWA (by players currently on the roster), and thanks to Lauren Hartlage, Louisville is one of them. Credit Trimble for keeping that kind of talent in-state – and developing it. The first time she saw Hartlage on a golf course, she was playing a set of U.S. Kids clubs. Hartlage was an eighth grader attending a Louisville golf camp. Even then, Trimble saw the potential.
“She believes in what she’s doing, she’s very smart and she knows her game,” said Trimble, who adds that Hartlage has balance across the board.
No doubt that Hartlage has benefited from female role models who are within her reach, but she’s given back, and that’s the larger theme of what’s about to happen this week. The middle ground – what Trimble calls intangibles – are what will shine this week, especially for those 30 players who make the 36-hole cut and get to truly compete at Augusta National on Saturday April 6. You don’t have to win to leave a meaningful mark.
“I try to set a good example – getting to practice early, showing everyone what they should be doing, balancing school and golf,” Hartlage said. “Just being a leader and showing everyone that even if it gets bad, you see the lows but you also see the highs.”
The ANWA is the highest high.