Freeport freshman golfer one of the guys
Asked if she likes to hit a draw or fade, Freeport's Audrey Clawson teed it up.
“Well, my ball generally goes straight,” she said.
Pure honesty from a humble freshman who only took up golf two years ago.
Clawson talks like a seasoned player and rightly so. She has game — plenty of it.
Just ask her teammates on the Freeport boys team.
“I can do a draw when I want, but some courses are narrow, so you have to hit a fade, too,” said Clawson, who has played her way into the Yellowjackets' No. 2 spot and has either been medalist or runner-up in every match so far for the Yellowjackets (4-1).
“She plays very smart golf and never gets in trouble,” No. 1 player Robbie Miller said. “I love having her on the team because she always seems to come in with sub-40 scores. You can tell that she's no stranger to competitive golf, and I give her credit for stepping in and playing right away.”
The fairway-finding 14-year-old has shot 40 or better in every match. Her season average is 37.8 through five matches, with her low nine-hole round a 1-under-par 34 at gentle Serene Valley.
That round included two eagles — on the 350-yard par-5 10th and the 250-yard, par-4 15th. She had a 60-yard second shot into No. 10 and drove No. 15 with a hybrid.
“Her play speaks for itself,” Yellowjackets coach Joe Sprumont said. “Boys on the team see that and respect it. They've had two good years together but haven't made the playoffs yet. They look at (Clawson) as someone who can help them make it.”
Clawson is the only girl on a senior-heavy team that includes senior captains Miller, Richard VanDruff and Luke Mariotti.
Other team members include seniors Ryley Cowan, Steven Vento, Greg Newman and junior Cole Hepler.
“It can be very intimidating; boys can really drive it far,” Clawson said. “You have to be more focused on your game than theirs. The more you focus on their game, the worse you do. It's been a little awkward, but the team has accepted me.”
A women's clinic at Kittanning Country Club sparked Clawson's interest in golf.
Clawson's uncle, Roy Dougherty, a 1-handicap, helped teach her the game, while longtime Kittanning Country Club pro Chuck Alex helped hone her skills year-round.
Clawson used to play basketball, soccer and volleyball but has decided to focus on golf.
Her mother, Sally Dougherty, has been impressed with the fast progress.
“Actually, golf's one of the sports I cared least for,” Dougherty said with a laugh. “But Audrey has really worked at it. She really puts a lot of time in.”
Sprumont points out that Freeport's team is co-ed, so having a girl is nothing new.
Clawson is the second girl he has coached in his three seasons. Senior Katelyn Minyon was a member of the team last season.
Past girls players such as Kelsey Harned and Kristen Huth also have handled being in the minority well. However, none has been so impactful so early as Clawson.
Sprumont said four other girls tried out for the team this season but did not qualify during tryouts. Clawson, meantime, tied for low score.
Clawson hopes to follow in the footsteps of recent Highlands grad Courtney Kordes, who played on the boys team in high school — at No. 1 — and earned a scholarship to Penn State.
Like Kordes, Clawson will play in the WPIAL girls' individual postseason.
Clawson is a member at Kittanning Country Club, where she was runner-up in this year's club championship. She also plays out of Buffalo Golf Course and caddies at Oakmont Country Club.
The WPIAL allows girls to play from the front tees in boys' matches, and Clawson does. “She hits the ball long; she can play,” Knoch coach Rob Voltz said. “She is very impressive.”
Knoch beat Freeport by a stroke in nonsection play, but Voltz said he had no issues with Clawson playing from the reds.
“She's not breaking any rules,” Voltz said. “She should take advantage of what the WPIAL gives her.”
WPIAL rules say girls playing on boys teams can play from the red tees but must be “approximately 85 percent of the total distance from the white tees.”
The WPIAL individual postseason intrigues Clawson. The Division II (Class AA) finals last year had only 17 players. Some of the top players moved up to Class AAA, so there may be an opening for her to succeed.
“My goal is to make states and maybe get into the top 10,” Clawson said. “Next year maybe I can go the full way. I want to get my scores down to the low 70s.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-224-2696 or firstname.lastname@example.org.