Golf changed Lori Beth Adams’ life.
She was 7 years old when her dad, Steve, took her to Indian Valley Golf Course in Burlington to hit some shots for the first time.
“After I hit that first ball, I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’ ” Adams recalled. “It was a long, hard road, but at the end all the hard work pays off.”
Because of that singular life-changing experience, Adams hopes to use golf to change the lives of others. The senior at UNC Wilmington is majoring in parks and recreation with her eye toward building a golf course for children and others battling disabilities. The idea was inspired by a special-needs student taught by Adams’ mom, Terry.
“When I got out of school, I would go over and help. It just opened my eyes,” Adams said. “To see the smile on their face when you do something nice for them is just an amazing feeling and I want to make an impact. I want to try to make a change in people’s lives.”
That kind of passion – for golf, for helping others – made Adams stand out during the college recruiting process. Wilmington coach Cindy Ho knew the Western Alamance High School star could score, but it takes more than low numbers to succeed in college golf.
“With Lori Beth and all the recruits, you want kids that are passionate. Let that drive you,” Ho said. “The kid that has heart is going to go further than the kid who has talent. You want that kind of kid.”
And Adams most certainly has gone far during her Seahawks career. She played in every match her freshman and sophomore seasons, then enjoyed a breakout year as a junior. Adams earned Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year honors, led the league with a 74.12 stroke average, and ended the season ranked in the top 65 nationally for both Golfstat (61st) and Golfweek (64th).
Last year proved to be a remarkable run, but those first two years weren’t exactly forgettable. Adams was No. 3 for UNCW as a freshman and enjoyed a top-10 finish. She was No. 3 again her second year, but lowered her stroke average from 78.1 to 77.0 and earned All-CAA second-team honors. Adams also placed third overall at the CAA Championship, setting the stage for big things to come as a junior.
“You only get better by being in the lineup,” Ho said. “She was at a place where she got to play right away, contributed right away. As she did that, she’s playing every single day, learning about her own game, getting over the intimidation factor of playing against players she maybe thought were better than her.”
As is usually the case, work in the short game led to the dramatic improvement between her sophomore and junior seasons. Adams dropped her stroke average from 77 to 74.12 by reducing her putting average three shots and becoming one of the best in the college game at sand saves.
Still more can be done, of course. Adams hopes to shave another putt or two – down to 28, 29 per round – and get her scoring average in the 70-71 range. Last year, she missed qualifying for the NCAA Championships by two shots.
“Those shots came from putting. Putting is the name of the game,” Adams said. “I think about it a lot. I’m kind of hard on myself for not making it.”
Reaching the NCAA Championships in Tulsa, Okla., at the end of May is one goal for Adams. Repeating as CAA Player of the Year is another, as is being a serious contender for All-American status. Adams also hopes her Seahawks can shake off last season’s second-place finish and win CAA championships like they did her first two years.
Granted, one especially challenging goal simply will be to enjoy her senior season and everything that goes along with it.
“When I came in as a freshman everyone was saying it’ll go by fast,” Adams recalled, adding that she didn’t heed the advice. “Now, I’m a senior and I can’t believe how fast it’s gone by.”
After Adams graduates, she plans to pursue a professional career and “see where it takes me.” Adams already has talked to several players she knows on the LPGA and minor-league Symetra Tour and hopes to compete in several of the Symetra events before heading to LPGA Qualifying School in August.
Does Adams have what it takes to make it among the best of the best?
“I think it’s very legitimate,” Ho said. “She has enough length and excellent accuracy to play at the next level. You have to make a lot of birdies, shoot a lot of low scores. That’s the next thing for her, believing you can shoot 67 on a regular basis. Right now, she’s very consistent in her finishes. Her game is close to winning.”
Adams got a nice taste of winning over the summer when she advanced through stroke play and won her first match at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. Adams reached the Round of 32 in an event that began with 156 of the top female amateurs in the world.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Adams said of her mindset entering the tournament. “I told myself to ‘play your game; it’s good enough.’ That gave me a lot of confidence, and then again, stuff I need to work on to make it to the next level. It was an all-around good experience.”
Just one of many in the world of golf since that 7-year-old picked up a club at Indian Valley. Ho praised Adams’ “support network” of parents, coaches, trainers and teammates all trying to help the golfer achieve her goals. Adams praised her high school coach, Jason Soyars – adding that she always enjoys getting back to Western for visits – along with past coach Robert Linville and current instructor Jason Widener.
“A lot of people have helped me along the way,” Adams said. “I’ve reached most of (my goals) and have a couple more to get through. I feel like I’ll be able to accomplish them.”