Mary-Frances Hall has a golf game that is college ready.
The 18-year-old freshman shot 74-75-149 to take individual medalist honors in a 10-team tournament in early March, winning the event by three strokes.
But her growing career won’t make much noise in collegiate golf circles. That’s because she plays an outsize game compared to the school’s program at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.
The Generals play Division III athletics, where there are no scholarships. Like most of the athletes at the liberal-arts school of just more than 2,000 students, Hall is here for the academics first.
“I thought about playing golf in Division I or Division II,” says Hall, who lives in State Road, N.C., and graduated from Elkin High School, west of Winston-Salem. “But ultimately I wanted to choose a school where academically I was going to be happy.”
Hall grew up in a golfing family. Her dad “had a club in my hand when I started walking,” Hall says.
Before long, she was playing in U.S. Kids Golf events and then the Peggy Kirk Bell Girls Golf Tour. She worked at her game after school every day, while many of her peers found other ways to enjoy their teen years.
“Most of my friends were doing other things, but it actually turned out pretty great,” she says. “One of my best friends (Annika Winebarger, Catawba College) also played golf, so it was nice to have someone else there practicing and playing in tournaments and the high school team.”
Hall’s breakthrough event came at the 2014 North Carolina Junior Girls’ Championship at Starmount Forest Country Club in Greensboro. She shot a 69 to earn medalist honors with her brother on the bag to calm her nerves.
“It was definitely a surreal experience,” she says. “As it was happening, it was like, ‘Oh my gosh … I can actually do this. I am capable of shooting under par and playing at that level of golf.”’
With college approaching, she was proving to herself and the golf community that she had the skills to play with the best. And she gave it some thought, taking an official visit to Division I East Carolina University.
But Hall was also the valedictorian of her class at Elkin High School. As much as golf meant to her, she couldn’t simply choose a school that would give her golf game the greatest test.
“It’s because my academics were so important to me,” Hall says. “I wanted to choose a school I wanted to go to academically, and then decide if I could play golf. I fell in love with the school and the academic programs they have here.”
Hall wants to be a doctor. She plans to major in neuroscience and go to med school.
“I’m kind of a big science geek,” she says with a laugh.
But it’s more than that. At Washington and Lee, her academic plate is full of interesting choices, from African history to drawing. She also has a chance to live the life of a typical college student. She is on the the Student Recruitment Committee and she recently joined a sorority.
“It’s not like golf is trumping everything,” Hall says. “I’m able to be part of many different clubs.”
Washington and Lee golf coach Peter Gyscek thinks Hall’s combination of athleticism and intellectual acumen is a perfect fit for her environment.
“You need the smarts to understand how to improve in a short amount of time, but you have to have the confidence to know when to stop thinking,” says Gyscek, who started the women’s golf program in 2012. “This is a conversation that we have very often. She has learned a bunch this year and played some of the best women’s golf in the nation. I think she has the DNA to be the ‘valedictorian’ of D-III golf.”
As of late March her individually and the team were each ranked eighth in the country, which gives Hall and her teammates a bit more competitive drive.
“We have these expectations for ourselves,” Hall says. “Our team is very good. Even though we’re not here on scholarship, we want to play our best golf.”
As for her game, Hall knows there is room to grow.
“I don’t hit a lot of greens, and that’s something I’m working on,” she says. “What really helps is I have a strong short game. My chipping and my putting are my strongest points.”
Her coach thinks she will continue to improve in college, thanks to the work habits she developed growing up.
“She made full use of her junior career,” Gyscek says. “It was not just about playing in golf tournaments but learning how to compete. She has brought many traits to the college level such as a solid pre-shot routine, an ability to visualize each shot and a confidence in her short game.”
Even if she makes great strides with her golf game in college, Hall doesn’t envision trying to play on the LPGA Tour. She loves the game, but realizes that golf is just that: a game.
“I definitely want to be a doctor, but golf is something I want to keep doing,” she says. “Even if I don’t have the time to play in tournaments, I want to be able to continue because I love playing golf. Whatever I can do to continue enjoying the game, that would be my goal.”
So these four years will be just fine to satisfy her competitive side.
“I love my team,” she says optimistically. “We play really competitive golf in Division III. So no, I don’t have any regrets. I love where I am.”