By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — On a team that includes golfers from Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Texas, Brittany Altomare stands out, and not only because of her considerable talent.
Altomare, a sophomore, is from Shrewsbury, Mass., about 40 miles west of Boston.
“I don’t usually look up North much [in recruiting], because girls from the South are able to practice more over the winter,” UVa coach Kim Lewellen said.
But Lewellen happily made an exception after spotting Altomare at a tournament in Virginia, of all places.
“I noticed how great her mechanics were, how great her ball-striking was, and she was immediately on my radar,” Lewellen said.
The NCAA championships begin Wednesday in Bryan, Texas, and Virginia is one of only seven schools to have qualified for the fourth straight year. Lewellen will go with the same lineup at The Traditions Club, a course on which the Cavaliers competed in September, as at the recent NCAA West Regional in Auburn, Wash.
At that 54-hole tournament, each team counted its top four scores per round. Seniors Calle Nielson and Joy Smith, sophomore Nicole Agnello, freshman Portland Rosen and Altomare combined to carry Virginia to a third-place tie with UC Davis.
The Cavaliers’ goal at the regional, though, was simply to advance to the 24-team NCAA championships, so they played more conservatively than usual.
“I think our mentality will be a little different at nationals,” Lewellen said. “Our goal is to win the tournament, and our back-end goal is to finish top-5.”
In 2010, the NCAAs were held in Wilmington, N.C., and the Cavaliers finished 13th. In the individual competition, Altomare placed 15th.
As a sophomore, she leads the Wahoos with a stroke average of 73.27. In the fall she won two tournaments — the Golfweek Challenge and The Landfall Tradition — but Altomare hasn’t been thrilled with her play this spring.
She finished seventh at the ACC tournament, the best showing by a Cavalier, but shot 74-79-73–226 at the NCAA regional to finish third on the team, behind Nielson (216) and Kim (223).
Altomare took a break from golf after the fall semester, and “I think I took a longer one than I should have,” she said recently at Birdwood Golf Course. “Everything’s just been OK. Not one thing has been great. But I’ve been working hard, and hopefully I’ll pull it all together [in Texas].”
Lewellen isn’t worried about Altomare, who played in the U.S. Women’s Open in 2009 and ’10. Neither are Altomare’s teammates, who marvel at her demeanor on the course.
“Her mental game’s awesome,” Nielson said. “She hits the ball great, too, but that’s why she’s so good. Things don’t bother her. I wish I could do it. I’m working on it.”
Altomare, a psychology major, credits her father, Thomas, for instilling that mental toughness in her.
“He kind of drilled into me at an early age that you have to compose yourself if you hit a bad shot, because that’s in the past,” she said, “and I agree 100 percent with that.”
When she was learning the game, did she ever throw her club after a bad shot? Altomare shook her head.
“That would have been out of the question,” she said. “My dad would never have let me play golf again. From the beginning, I was taught how to compose myself and handle myself professionally, because it’s a game of etiquette.
“I’m not going to lie and say there aren’t times I want to do that. But I just wait a second, and it goes away.”
Lewellen said: “I think Brittany’s very mature for her age in the way that she represents herself on the golf course. I would agree her father had a strong impact with that. He worked with her all through her junior golf to today, and it shows.
“When you watch her play, you don’t know if she’s playing good or bad. She plays with the same confidence no matter what.”
As a girl, Altomare swam and skied. She played soccer and softball and basketball. By the time she got to Shrewsbury High, though, her athletic passion was golf. She played on the school’s boys team for four years and was captain as a junior and senior.
Even then, Lewellen said, Altomare was “very strong mentally. You could just tell that she was a great player and was going to have an immediate impact here at Virginia.”