Natalie Sheary has gone from a first grader new to West Hartford to one of the top female golfers in NCAA Division I. The daughter of Michael and Linda Sheary of West Hartford, she now plays for Wake Forest University and has racked up so many honors in her four-year career that she is the most decorated female golfer in Wake Forest history.
After being named the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Rookie of the Year her freshman year, she earned ACC Player of the Year her sophomore year. Her junior year, Sheary encountered an illness that hurt her performance because she had trouble breathing and fatigued easily.
But now as a senior, she is back to her impressive play. In three tournaments this spring, her team has won a tournament and she has top-10 finishes in all three. She is ranked 25th this week in the Golfweek rankings for all female collegiate players.
She has also already qualified to play professionally on the Futures Tour when she graduates. If she can finish in the top-10 on the Futures Tour, she will automatically earn her LPGA card to play on that tour in 2012. If she doesn’t finish in the top-10, she will go to Qualifying School in November to try to gain a spot on the LPGA Tour.
Sheary recently took time to sit down and answer questions from Berlin Patch editor Bob Mayer, who has been covering Sheary for the last 10 years.
Q: Talk a little about growing up in West Hartford. What are your fondest memories of growing up in town. Did you play other sports growing up or was it always just golf?
A: I lived in New Britain until first grade when we moved to West Hartford and I enrolled in Wolcott school. I live with my dad (Michael), my mom (Linda) and my 17-year old sister (Jennifer.) Growing up in West Hartford was a great place with things like Westfarms mall, West Hartford center and Rockledge golf course. Living in North Carolina, I can now see how great a town West Hartford is with all of its upcoming developments. I never realized how great is it to have everything in one town and not have to drive 45 minutes to go to the Apple Store or Trader Joes like I do down here. I played youth basketball for the town of West Hartford until age 12, when I stopped everything and started focusing on golf.
Q: Who else recruited you and why did you choose Wake Forest? How many years did you play at Conard and when did you go to Florida? What was the name of that training academy?
A: I was recruited by many Division I schools. Some of the schools include, in addition to Wake: Duke, Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Arizona State and North Carolina. I choose Wake for the small school size, good athletics, and strong academic program. I played golf at Conard my freshman year of high school. I went to the Leadbetter Academy my senior year of high school. IMG Academy is the name of the complex with the Leadbetter Golf as one of the sports it houses.
Q: You've always performed at a high level, but were you surprised by your success right away as a freshman at Wake?
A: No, only because I felt like Leadbetter and the competition there prepared me for college golf. I consider myself a hard worker, so I knew if I kept my routine consistent while being in college I would see decent results.
Q: Give me one or two highlights from each year, freshman through junior.
A: Freshman – ACC Rookie of the Year, All American, All-ACC Scholar team
Sophomore – ACC Player of the year, All American, All-ACC Scholar team
Junior – All-ACC Scholar team, had to face adversity with my development of asthma, but all is well now
Q: Talk about this season — the team won a tournament already. What are your personal and team expectations?
A: We have had to work harder as a team than we ever had in the past. An upcoming scholarship sophomore, Stephanie Kim, turned pro, so we were a bit short handed as far as our fourth and fifth players are concerned. We knew who our top three players would be for both seasons but inconsistency from our lower ranks kept us from performing well as a team. Last week, at the Bryan Invitational, we got some good scores from our lower ranks that allowed us to finally shine as a team. Personally, I always work hard to prepare myself for every tournament. There is never an instance where I am traveling and do not feel ready for an event. As a team, next week we have ACC’s where we are two-time defending champions. We are looking forward to once again defending our title most notably against North Carolina, Virginia and Duke.
Q: What is your major, how are your grades? Can you look beyond golf and see another profession for yourself and what would it be?
A: Major: Religion, Minors: American Ethnic Studies and Sociology. I have been on the All-ACC Scholar team each year so I consider myself a good student. As of now the women’s golf team has the highest GPA of any female sports team at Wake despite the fact that we miss the most days of school due to traveling. I believe that whether I play or not, I will always be in some way or another associated in something golf related. If I absolutely had to pick some other field it would be something either with sports medicine or forensic analysis.
Q: Explain how you qualified for the Futures Tour, where and when, and when will you attempt to qualify for the LPGA Tour.
A: Last November (2010) my dad and I went to central Florida to play in the qualifier for the LPGA Futures Tour. Despite my first round of 75 I came back with rounds of 67-67-70 to win Q- School over Jessica Korda. Once I graduate in early May I will begin the Futures Tour season in Iowa at the ladies Titan Tire Challenge. While I will have some catching up due to missing the first five events, I will try to be top ten on the money list and earn my LPGA card that route. If that does not happen I will go to Q-School in the winter.
Q: (West Hartford native) Liz Janangelo has always been kind of the gold standard and yet she was not able to make it on the LPGA Tour. She's working at a course teaching lessons now. You have been compared to her often because you're from the same hometown and won some of the same tournaments. First, does that bother you? Second, can you talk about how difficult it is to make it on tour, either the Futures or LPGA, especially with the depth of the field with the international players?
A: I am flattered that people would compare me to Liz. She was the top junior and college player during her time. When I was young I was lucky to be able to talk to someone so successful who had gone through the same things that I was going to encounter. As for the tour, there are so many great players both national and international to contend with. Golf is becoming more and more popular for females and the work ethic and time commitment that is portrayed by the Koreans is something that is rubbing off on American players more and more. Scores that were winning two years ago wouldn’t even be top 10 nowadays. Being and staying on tour is a full-time commitment and grind that people don’t realize.
Q: Anything else you want to add? Anyone you want to thank?
A: As always I would not be where I am without the support of my parents and the rest of the family. No matter how I do they are always behind me to inject the confidence I need to be successful. Unlike many people, my parents would sacrifice anything to see me succeed and have fun with whatever I do. For that I am grateful.