By Jeff White
CHARLOTTESVILLE — About three miles separated her dorm room at Hereford from Birdwood Golf Course, an easy drive by car. But as a first-year student at UVa, Lauren Greenlief didn’t have a car. And so in the fall of 2008, with her tryout for the women’s golf team looming, she improvised.
“I really needed to practice, because I was kind of nervous about the tryout,” Greenlief recalled this week. “So I borrowed someone’s bike, and I rode out to Birdwood a couple times. I just took two clubs, a driver and a 7-iron, and put them on the handlebars and rode out there to hit balls.”
Had UVa coach Kim Lewellen gotten her way, Greenlief’s tryout might not have taken place. Lewellen had never added a non-recruited walk-on to the team, and she didn’t mince words with those who requested tryouts.
“After we tell them that it’s going to be a really tough schedule and they’re going to have early-morning workouts and they need to shoot around 75 to even have a chance, usually by then they say, ‘Oh, I don’t think this is exactly what I want to do,’ ” Lewellen recalled.
“She kept e-mailing and saying, ‘Yes, I do want to try out. Yes, I do want to try out,’ ” Lewellen said. “To be honest with you, I just kind of kept putting it off, because I thought, ‘This just never, ever pans out.’ “
About a month into the fall semester, the day of Greenlief’s audition finally arrived, and she found herself back at Birdwood, the Cavaliers’ home course.
“I go up and I introduce myself on the driving range,” Lewellen said, “and she’s standing there and she’s just shaking.
“She hits a ball and I think, ‘Well, that’s pretty good.’ So I put her with a pairing that I thought she’d be relaxed with. By the fourth hole, she’d hit every fairway, every green, and I said, ‘You are on the team.’ “
The story of Greenlief’s tryout doesn’t end there.
“All of a sudden one of the girls said, ‘Coach, I think that’s the girl who’s been riding her bike with a couple clubs from campus to the golf course,’ ” Lewellen said. “And then I just felt like a heel. I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this girl’s been riding her bike back and forth with golf clubs to practice, and I’ve been putting her off.’ “
On that autumn day, Greenlief became a member of one of the ACC’s top programs. She also earned a nickname from her new teammates.
In honor of Greenlief’s cycling exploits, they dubbed her “L.A.,” for “Lance Armstrong, and that has stuck ever since,” Lewellen said, laughing. “When somebody says ‘Lauren,’ I don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
Greenlief graduated from Oakton High in Northern Virginia, where her classmates included Keith Werman, now a standout for UVa’s baseball team. Greenlief redshirted as a freshman in 2008-09 but since then has been a fixture in the Wahoos’ lineup. More remarkable, however, are her accomplishments off the golf course.
“She’s a very special young lady, isn’t she?” Lewellen said.
An Echols Scholar who arrived at UVa with 38 credit hours, Greenlief carried a double major, in economics and math, and needed only three years to earn her bachelor’s degree. She’s nearing the end of a Master’s in Commerce program in the McIntire School of Commerce — her concentration is finance — and at UVa’s annual all-sports banquet last week, Greenlief received the women’s ACC Scholar-Athlete Award.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Greenlief said of the honor.
“I was very, very excited for her,” Lewellen said. “Not only is she a good player and a good student, she’s a good leader on the team and a good example. We have three first-years, and she just took them under her wing and really has helped them manage themselves academically, as well as being an example of a hard worker on the golf course.”
Greenlief said: “The last four years I’ve worked really hard, and I talked to Kim a lot about making sure myself and everyone on the team gives 100 percent in everything we do, whether it be on the golf course or in the classroom or in relationships with people in your everyday life. So it feels good to work so hard and get recognized for it.”
Once she gets her master’s degree, Greenlief won’t have to worry about finding a job. Last fall, she accepted a position with the Boston Consulting Group. She’ll be a management and strategy consultant in its Washington, D.C., office, she said, working primarily with Fortune 500 companies. She starts her job Aug. 1.
“I’d love to have her back another year,” Lewellen said, “but she’s got such a good job opportunity, I think that trumps it.”
Greenlief’s immediate concern is golf. The ‘Hoos are seeded No. 9 among the 24 teams that will compete at the NCAA Central Region championship in Columbus, Ohio. The top eight teams from the regional, which begins Thursday and runs through Saturday, will advance to the NCAA championships in Franklin, Tenn.
At Oakton, Greenlief starred for the boys golf team in the 11th and 12th grades but wasn’t heavily recruited.
“I always kind of knew I wanted to play golf in college,” she said, “but during junior golf I didn’t play a lot of big national tournaments until my junior and senior year in high school, at which point a lot of times you’re kind of overlooked by [college] coaches, because they’ve already kind of set up their lineups and all their interest.
“I’d been playing a lot of golf in high school and was really getting serious about it, so I knew I wanted to take it to the next level. So when I got here I really wanted to work hard for the tryout so I could have that opportunity. I guess I got pretty lucky that Kim allowed me to try out and gave me a chance and actually let me play.”
Greenlief has a younger brother, Sam, who attends Virginia Tech. (“He’s in the engineering program there and he just loves it, so I really can’t fault him for being a Hokie,” she said with a smile.) Their parents are attorneys, but that career path doesn’t interest Lauren, at least for now.
“After growing up with lawyers, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be one,” she said, laughing.
When the Cavaliers’ season ends, Greenlief will head to China for five weeks in Beijing as part of her master’s program at McIntire. How much golf she’ll be able to play once she starts her full-time job is unclear. But Greenlief knows she’ll treasure the memories of countless hours spent on the course during her college career.
“It’s the best sport,” she said. “You go to class in the morning, and then, yeah, you’re working hard at practice, but you’re outside and it’s beautiful and we have great practice facilities. I think if I wasn’t on the golf team, I’d probably be out there practicing anyway.”