SEBRING, FLA. In and of itself, a three-shot victory at the 52nd Harder Hall Women's Invitational last week doesn't make University of Virginia senior Leah Wigger a front runner to claim the NCAA title come May. It does, however, offer a glimpse into just how talented the 22-year-old two-time All-American is and why you might want to keep an eye on her as the spring season begins in the next few weeks.
Following Wigger for her final 36 holes last week at Harder Hall CC (while working on a piece for Golf World's just launched Amateur section on the four women's events that make up the Orange Blossom circuit) I personally can vouch for the fact her win didn't come because she had total command of her driver. On the contrary, it seemed like the 2005 NCAA runner-up had developed an allergy to the fairway, a low duck hook making her mother, Lynn, more than a bit anxious in the crowd and suggesting the rust hadn't been totally knocked off her swing before she left her Louisville home for central Florida.
Apparently one thing is pretend you're a younger version of Annika Sorenstam with your irons. For as wild as Wigger was off the tee, it looked like she was in mid-summer form with her approach shots to the green. How else could she have opened with the only sub-par score of the first round (69), then posted a 67 Saturday afternoon to give herself a commanding five-shot lead through 54 holes (a 67 despite hitting less than half her fairways).
Most impressive was Wigger's finish to her third round Saturday, where she birdied her final three holes, rolling in putts of 12, 6 and 10 feet. This after she and the others in her final foursome (Auburn's Candace Schepperle, Vanderbilt's Jacqui Concolino and high schooler Sally Watson) were put on the clock by a rules official. "It was like that jump started her or something," Concolino joked afterward.
Actually, what strikes me most about Wigger--and why you need to remember her name come the post-season's her ability to bounce back after a bad hole. Saturday, while starting off the 10th tee, she bogeyed the 12th hole, only to make birdie on the 13th. After a bogey on the second hole, she birdied the third, the most difficult hole on the course.
Sunday, Wigger bogeyed the par-5 first hole and when Schepperle (an 18-year-old freshman who was pretty impressive herself last week en route to a runner-up finish) birdied it, the two-shot swing suggested we might have more excitement in Sebring than first thought. But back-to-back birdies by Wigger on the fourth and fifth holes stretched the margin back to five, allowing the woman who has already decided to turn pro after the college season play the Futures Tour to coast to a tournament-record tying eight-under 280 and her second national amateur title within a year.