No person wanted to play the spring golf season more than Mark Lawrence, Jr., and no one expressed more disappointment at the COVID-created cancelation of it.
Five months later, the Virginia Tech golfer is even more disappointed at the cancellation of the fall golf season. That’s because Lawrence arguably ranks as the hottest collegiate golfer in the country at the moment following two bigtime wins on the summer circuit, and he wants to take on all challengers.
The Richmond native torched the competition to win the State Open of Virginia held at Ballyhack Golf Club in Roanoke, a course he knows quite well considering its 30-minute proximity from the Virginia Tech campus.
Then he polished his summer resume with a victory in the Virginia State Golf Association (VSGA) Amateur Championship held at River Bend Golf Club in Great Falls, Va.
“No, I wouldn’t say I’m surprised,” Lawrence said via phone in mid-August. “I sort of set high expectations for myself every year, and I haven’t really been meeting my expectations in the past. I sort of got everything clicking this summer.”
In mid-July, Lawrence blitzed Ballyhack and the competition, firing a 9-under-par 63 on the first day and ultimately cruising to the victory. He led by four strokes after the first round, by seven strokes after the second round, and then his lead never dipped below four strokes in the final round, as he closed with a 69.
The win marked his first in the State Open, a tournament that has plagued him over the years. He twice has lost in a playoff.
The VSGA Amateur Championship was a bit more challenging. In a 36-hole match play final against 17-year-old David Stanford, Lawrence held off the youngster 3&2 to claim his second amateur title. He also put himself into the history books, becoming just the fourth golfer ever to win both the VSGA Amateur and the State Open in the same year and the first to do so in 35 years.
”I knew going in [to the State Open] with the way I was hitting the ball, I was going to play well,” Lawrence said. “I just had to stay in it and not give anything back the whole time. I did a good job of keeping the ball in front of me and made it a lot easier on myself.
“At the State Amateur, I might not have been quite as dialed in as I was, but I still played really well,” Lawrence said. “I hit the ball really well, and that helps a lot in match play because when you’re hitting the ball well, you’re kind of forcing your opponent’s hand, and you try to be a little more aggressive. That really makes a difference once you get in match play.”
Lawrence’;s game took a notable turn for the better after last year’s fall season. He finished in the top 10 twice in six events, but he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be. He cracked the face on two of his drivers in the fall, and he kept adjusting his swing to try and get the ball in play off the tee.
After the fall campaign, Virginia Tech head golf coach Brian Sharp met with Lawrence and suggested that he see a club fitter in Charlotte for a new driver. Lawrence made the trip in mid-December, received his new driver in January, and he gradually began hammering longer and straighter drives.
“It took me a little bit of time to get used to it because I had altered my swing to try and make the other drivers that I had work versus getting something that was right for my swing,” Lawrence said. “It took me a little bit of time to get used to it. It started to really click honestly about right at the time when COVID canceled our spring season. That was when it really started to click for me.”
Lawrence and the Hokies played in one round at the Dorado Beach Collegiate in Puerto Rico before inclement weather reduced the event to the one round. A few weeks later, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the NCAA and ACC shut down all athletics-related events.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Lawrence.
“It’s pretty disappointing,” he said. “I understand the reasoning behind it. I wish there could have been a way to play out the season, but thankfully, I’ll have an opportunity to play this spring.”
After shutting down all spring sports, the NCAA made the decision to grant all spring sports athletes an additional year of eligibility. Lawrence still plans on returning to Blacksburg for the upcoming spring semester even though he graduated in May.
Getting his finance degree was important to him, so important that he made a rather unorthodox decision before the 2018-19 season, at least unorthodox in the golfing world. He decided to take a redshirt season, and that year allowed him to catch up academically on coursework.
Moreover, it eliminated the dual pressure of trying to graduate and to prepare his game for a move to the professional ranks.
–Jimmy Robertson, VT Athletics