In August, four months after suffering a broken left clavicle that ended her soccer season, Lauren Azan was still wincing with every swing.
Despite being a three-time state qualifier, her expectations for the upcoming campaign were hopeful but weathered, since she didn’t know what the injury had in store for her down the road.
Two months later, equipped with a clean bill of health and the scores to represent that, the traces of modesty are nowhere to be found for the brown-haired, 5-foot-1 senior.
Azan isn’t arrogant, but she’s confident she belongs on the short list of state title contenders after studying the scores from the Class 2 district and sectional tournaments.
“I’ve looked at all the scores from the top girls in districts and sectionals,” said Azan, whose collarbone soreness subsided after the first two or three matches. “They weren’t anything big or great.”
Of the 90 state qualifiers, 11 golfers scored lower than Azan’s 83 in sectional play. But on Monday, the stout field will travel to Azan’s home turf: The Sedalia Country Club.
The last time Azan — who carded a career-best 5-over 75 to win the West Central Conference championship two weeks ago — played in Sedalia competitively, she fired a 5-over-par 76 to garner second place in the Smith-Cotton Classic.
Because of that, Azan is feeling the weight of the world on her shoulders.
“There’s a lot of pressure being that it’s my own course,” said Azan, who has called the par-70 setting home since she picked up a club at the age of 5. “I know what I’m capable of shooting here, and I just need to play how I know I can play.”
Smith-Cotton coach B.J. Curry, who led the Lady Tigers to four straight state championships from 1990-93, believes Azan will handle the pressure and put up two good scores.
“She’s proven that she’s one of the top players in the state based on her play all year,” Curry said. “I think it’s obviously going to be an advantage to play at home, but it’s really the same as anywhere else. She still has to go out and compete for two days and score low.”
Based on previous results, anything less than medaling would be a disappointment for the four-time state qualifier, who has improved with every showing.
In 2008, she tied for 60th as a freshman with a two-day total of 187 (95-92). A year later, she trimmed three strokes off her score to finish tied for 49th.
That set the stage for 2010, when she burst onto the scene with an opening-day 78 en route to a 19th-place finish (after an 86 on day two) that left her just two strokes away from medaling.
Despite finishing first and seventh respectively, this year’s district and sectional play didn’t produce the scores she had hoped for (85 and 83). But she knows she can score lower in crunch time.
“I know I can compete with the top girls and I’m hoping for both days to shoot low 70s,” Azan said. “I want to make sure it’s an attainable goal and I think that’s about right if I play my best.”
Whether she can provide two back-to-back quality rounds will be the biggest question mark for Azan, who has struggled with consistency.
“Over the years up until now, my golf game has been pretty erratic,” said Azan, whose scores have ranged from 75 to 92 this season. “I’d say my consistency has definitely increased but I really need to focus in to score well in back-to-back days.”