VU Background Helping Ward 6/27/02

By 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 college years.

"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 paused.

"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."


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