VU Background Helping Ward 6/27/02
Rod Williamson, Originally appreared in the Flagship
It is probably fitting that we asked Meredith
Ward to reflect upon her Vanderbilt golf career 36 holes
into her professional debut.
Ward, a two-time academic All-America and
a second-team all-SEC selection in this recent year, was
talking from Ohio. She was 1-under par after two rounds
of the Greater Lima Futures Open - her first tournament
since finishing her Commodore career a few weeks ago.
Meredith has found quite a different competitive
world on the Futures Tour and yet, she thinks her Vanderbilt
career has prepared her well.
"It's a little different to have a $335 entry
fee and needing to make your own travel arrangements," the
Crystal Lake, Ill., product says. "For my first tournament
I'm staying in a motel but from now on I'll take the private
housing options the tour provides.
"But I've already realized that golf is pretty
much the same game no matter where you play it," Ward continues.
"I don't think there is any more pressure on this tour than
in college. It's something I do and I feel very fortunate
to be able to do it. I think I have a great opportunity
and choose to look at things from that perspective."
Ward says she knows many of the Futures Tour
members from past competitions. There was even an immediate
Vanderbilt link when she ran into Lesley Henderson, who
played for the Black and Gold in the early to mid-1990's.
"Lesley is making a comeback," Meredith says.
"She had already graduated when I arrived at Vanderbilt
but I had known her a little when she came back a time or
two to watch us play."
Otherwise, Ward says the players range in
age from the low 20's to almost 40. In fact, Meredith noted
that in her very first professional round she was paired
with a player "about Martha's age", a reference to Commodore
Coach Martha Freitag - who is not going to be confused with
the Little Old Lady from Pasadena anytime soon.
It doesn't take long for Ward to get around
to praising Freitag, who coached her during her last two
"Martha Freitag has really prepared me for
this level in many ways," Meredith reflects. "I used to
be a very mechanical player. I like math and science and
want to find exact answers to everything. In golf, I tended
to over-analyze everything.
Martha made me realize the value of relaxing
- not to be so black and white but more fuzzy gray - and
to play just one shot at a time. That sounds simple but
it took me quite awhile to understand what she meant.
"Martha made me realize there was more than
one way to hit a golf ball," Ward continues. "She also is
an excellent teacher. When I would get some advice from
my teaching pro, she would very quickly understand what
I needed to be doing. She became an extra set of eyes for
me and my game prospered because of it."
Meredith says she learned something else
very valuable from Freitag, who put Vanderbilt into the
upper echelon of college golf in less than two years.
"Martha has a very good outlook on things,"
Ward says. "College players tend to put too much pressure
on themselves. Martha would remind us that golf is something
we do, not something that totally defines our lives. I realized
that it's a game -- that my playing partner probably doesn't
care if I make this putt or remember what I shoot."
Ward says she will live in Nashville next
year, in part to stay close to Freitag's watchful eye.
Ward says even after making the transition
from college player to alumnus, she feels there is unfinished
business with the Commodores and their quest for excellence.
It causes her to wish she had one more year of eligibility
remaining but it also leaves her knowing the program's future
is very bright.
"As much as our team accomplished (NCAA Tournament
appearance, best SEC Tournament finish, national rankings
that even included a brief stint at No. 1 in the nation)
we knew when we had finished our final round at the NCAA
Tournament that we had better golf in our system. It's just
a matter of time until everything falls into place and when
it does, the sky is the limit."
Getting away from golf, which admittedly is
hard for Meredith to do, she knows her Vanderbilt career
exceeded her expectations.
"Vanderbilt was everything I imagined and
hoped it would be," says the former high school boys golf
team star. "When I came to Vanderbilt I wasn't sure what
I wanted to do or even if golf was going to play a major
role in my future. But just as though my high school golf
team improved every year, so did we in my four years. As
a freshman if we had three players shoot under 80 on a given
day we thought it was an accomplishment. By my senior year
we had incredible but attainable goals."
Ward is pleased with her academic career but
right now admits it has taken a bit of a back seat.
"I think Vanderbilt really helped me with
my time management skills," she says. "I would have 30 things
to do and learned quickly that I would have to be efficient
with my time to get everything done."
Ward shot 1-under par to win the Green Wave
Classic midway through her sophomore year. It is a feeling
that she has never forgotten. When asked if she would rather
be an academic all-America or win a golf tournament, she
"I don't want people to misunderstand this,"
she replied a bit sheepishly, "but it's very hard for me
to not say I'd rather win a golf tournament. Someday I know
having good options to fall back upon will be important
but right now golf is at the center of my life."