ANGOLA, Ind. – The steep hill that protected the 18th green absorbed DePauw senior Taylor Beaty’s second shot like it had so many others this week. After blasting into its sheer face, the shot trickled over the crest and settled 70 yards from the pin. She had a clear view of the bunker that guarded the yellow flag whipping in the spring wind.
But she was undeterred by the sand and the gusts — she’d stood atop that hill through her entire golfing life.
Her third shot, lofted off the hill’s downslope, caught the front of the green, took two bounces and meandered into the cup. The dozens of onlookers, including her parents Brent and Marymae, roared. She’d shot a 73 and was in the top 10 of the NCAA Championship after two rounds. She had led her team to within one shot of the lead.
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But, most importantly, Taylor Beaty had come home.
“I couldn’t really believe it; I blinked and opened my eyes and wanted to look again,” she said. “How often do you get an eagle? And in front of the hometown crowd?”
She said that eagle on 18 is “absolutely” the most memorable shot of her career — one that began, and will end, at Zollner Golf Course, 30 miles from her childhood home.
Seven years ago, Beaty, a 15-year-old curious about a new sport, took her first humble swings during a lesson at Zollner. Months later, it hosted her first competitive tournament.
This week, it’s where she’ll finish an impressive run at DePauw — she’s competing in her fourth NCAA Championship.
“It’s really hard to put into words,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine it any better. I couldn’t write it any better … it’s too perfect.”
After three rounds of play, DePauw sits a mere two strokes behind 14-time defending champion Methodist and Beaty trails individual tournament leader Catherine Wagner of Wisconsin — Eau Claire by three strokes.
Years before Beaty was capable of firing a golf ball 70 yards into a 4-inch-wide hole, she was taking aim at a more forgiving target. She and her maternal grandfather peppered a fruit basket with chip shots in the backyard. Though she’d never taken a formal lesson or showed any interest in playing golf, he watched her sink shots into the basket over and over again.
“He would say, ‘She’s a natural! She’s a natural!’ ” Beaty’s mother, Marymae, said. “And we all went, ‘That’s just what grandpa thinks.’ ”
But they’d soon adopt his line of thinking. After he passed away, Beaty had a request — she wanted to take golf lessons. Those frequent chipping sessions in the backyard — her grandfather lived only a mile away — had stuck with her. She wanted to build on those first lessons, remembering him with every stroke.
“He was like my best friend,” she said. “I went with grandpa everywhere.”
Beaty rarely asked for anything as a child, her mother said, so her parents were eager to sign her up for lessons at Zollner. After her first session, Beaty’s coach was certain she’d been playing for years. They told her parents, just as her grandfather had before he passed away, that their daughter was a natural. This time, they believed it.
“We felt very dumb to know someone for 15 years and not know that we had a golfer,” Marymae said.
Months later, Beaty was back at Zollner, donning a DeKalb High School uniform. Her first stroke of the tournament came on the 10th tee — the drive hooked left and sailed into the woods. Tournament golf, it seemed, wasn’t as simple as targeting that basket. This year, with the memory of her failed debut replaying in her mind, she once again took her first shot of the tournament at 10. To her delight, she avoided the trees.
“She always shoots us a smile when she plays 10,” Brent Beaty said.
DeKalb only lost one regular-season match during Beaty’s senior year and was ranked as high as fifth in Indiana. Her high school coach, Rick Roark, said she was one of the top five players that he coached during his nine years at DeKalb. To say thank you, he’s watching his former pupil take her last competitive swings at Zollner this week.
“To have a player advance to another level and enjoy it as much as she does is quite an honor,” Roark said.
Beaty’s parents have seen her amass an 80.05 scoring average — 24th in Division III — in locales nationwide. They’ve followed her to Florida, Texas and the Carolinas, among others, throughout her college career. This week, they only had to venture 30 miles and are joined on the course by Brent’s parents, who also reside nearby. Brent’s father, Gene, now in his 80s has been playing for three decades. He’s tackled Zollner with Taylor numerous times since she adopted the game at the behest of her other grandfather.
“I’ve watched her start it and now she’ going to finish it here,” Gene Beaty said. “It’s great.”
Beaty estimates she’s played 20 rounds at Zollner since that first high school tournament. Only one more remains.
“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “But it’s becoming sweeter having all the support out there.”