For as long as she can remember, Lauren Stratton has put others over herself. It's just natural for the Vanderbilt junior.
She grew up playing every team sport imaginable: basketball, volleyball, soccer, track—even baseball with the boys.
So when asked about leading Vanderbilt women's golf team with the best scoring average this fall (70.8)—bettering her average from the 2010-11 season by a full 4.3 strokes—all that Stratton can focus on is increasing her chances of her ultimate desired outcome: helping the team.
"There's nothing like being on a team. Growing up, that's what it's about," the 21-year-old junior said. "A victory's so much sweeter when you can share it with someone. And for golf, college is the only place you can do it."
Stratton capped off her fall season with a runner-up finish at the Mercedes Benz SEC/Pac 12 Challenge last week (above), her third straight top-10 effort. A 12th-place finish is her worst fall showing.
By virtue of the Spring Hill, Tenn., native's efforts, the Commodores placed in the top 10 as a team in all four of their fall events, including a second-place finish in Knoxville last weekend, helping them claim the No. 7 spot in the latest Golf World/NGCA women's coaches' poll.
Vanderbilt senior Marina Alex, one of the top amateurs in the nation, sees a more comfortable and relaxed Stratton leading her team.
"She's always given herself chances to shoot well, but she's now capitalizing a lot more on her birdies," said Alex, the 2010 SEC individual champ. "She's come a long way in the past two years. It's great to see."
That maturation process started as a freshman. Watching the way Alex handled herself en route to finishing in the top 10 in 11 of 12 tournaments she played taught Stratton how to conduct herself on and off the course, Stratton says.
"It was really good for me to see how to live the life of a top-five golfer in the nation," she said.
Stratton's own success started this summer: She earned medalist honors at her U.S. Women's Amateur qualifier with a two-under-par 70, then finished T-18 (with Alex) during stroke play. (The (un)luck of the draw gave her a first-round match with Duke All-American Lindy Duncan, which she lost, 2 and 1.)
Being healthy enough to play in the summer, after sitting out the past two years with a back injury and hip arthritis, propelled her to have a stellar fall, as well.
"In years past my fall was my warm up," she said, "but this year I used the summer to get ready."
Stratton's now in top form, leading the Commodores to one of their best falls of late. With Vanderbilt's home course hosting the NCAA Championships this spring, Stratton is excited.
Not just because of the home-course advantage. Not just because she lives nearby and will have a large cheering section (her hometown is a bit more than a 30-minute drive).
But because she feels her Commodores will accomplish their team goal—which is all that really matters to Stratton.
"Playing for a team makes you play with a little more heart," she says. "When I'm playing well, all I'm thinking about is going lower in case someone else isn't playing as well as they normally would. That's what it's all about. The individual stuff just falls into place.
"And that's my favorite part of college golf.""
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