In Senior Season, Sturm?s Career Comes Full Circle



By Scott Latta
UA Media Relations

When Sarah Sturm was in high school, there were times when opposing players would make a comment about her being on the same golf course as them. There were the older men who thought she took too long or others who thought she simply didn’t belong.

It may seem odd, then, that while Sturm’s presence on the golf course was being questioned by those around her, the Spartanburg, S.C. native was busy racking up some of her team’s most impressive honors on the course, which included four consecutive All-State appearances.

That’s because, for four years, Sturm was the only female member of the Spartanburg High School varsity boys golf team and, as it turned out, the only one who would play collegiate golf.

Making the switch

After a successful high school career, Sturm signed a scholarship to play golf for then-Furman head coach Mic Potter, just 45 minutes away from her family in Spartanburg. She enjoyed a successful first year, competing in 10 of her team’s 11 events during her freshman year and compiled the fifth-best stroke average on the team.

But it was during one of Sturm’s best performances of the season that things took a dramatic turn. While playing in a tournament, she received a call from her head coach, who told her he was taking the Alabama job.

“It had never entered my mind that he was going to leave,” Sturm said. “I was second in that tournament and the next day I shot an 83. I was completely out of it.”

Sturm said Potter’s exit made her reevaluate what she wanted to do. Moving to Tuscaloosa with Potter was teammate Jenny Suh, and suddenly what she had never before considered doing became a viable option: play big-time college golf for a major university.

“I think I made 10 different pros and cons lists of staying at Furman or going to Alabama,” she said. “As much as I think I wanted to stay at Furman with all of my friends and be close to everything, it was like: you need to go to Alabama if playing college golf is what you want to do.”

It didn’t take long for Sturm to realize she had made the right decision. On her initial visit to the Alabama campus — which was the first time she had set foot in the state — she was “blown away” by what the university had to offer.

But still, there were times during her first year she said she just wanted to go home. It was difficult to make friends at such a large university. Her family was no longer just a quick drive away. Maybe she had made the wrong decision.

But then there was still her nucleus of support from her former coach and teammates, who now were forming the core of a new program at Alabama. There was still the excitement of playing in every event on the highest level and the opportunity to lay the groundwork for an entire program.

In the end, Sturm came to realize she had made the right call.

“I had a lot of support and I have no doubt I made the right decision,” she said. “I have no regrets. There’s nothing more fun than winning.”

‘What happened to Sarah?’

On the course, Sturm adapted quickly to her new home. In her sophomore season, she compiled the second-best stroke average on the team (77.71) behind Jenny Suh, while playing in every event. She earned five top-25 finishes, including a second place finish at the Lady Gator Classic, while marking significant improvement under Potter’s guidance.

In her junior year, she lowered her stroke average even more (76.91), while once again playing in every event. A second-round 69 at the Cougar Classic was a career best and a final-round 71 at the NCAA East Regional proved crucial in getting Alabama into a playoff for the final spot, which it eventually won over Virginia.

But it wasn’t until last month that Sturm’s career might have come full circle, at the Puerto Rico Classic in the Tide’s first tournament of the spring. In fourth place going into the final round, Alabama shot two-over as a team on the final day to rally for the overall team championship.

One big reason for the Tide’s rally? A final-round 71 from Sturm—the best round of the tournament for Alabama.

“I can honestly say that I didn’t know what Sarah was shooting during the final round in Puerto Rico,” Potter said. “I knew that she had made a couple of birdies, but I didn’t know if she had offset those with bogies. I do know that you can always count on Sarah to give you her best, so whatever score she shoots, I can live with.”

Helping her team claim the title, Sturm said, has made her put her college career in perspective.

“I think I’ve improved a little every year and now winning the first tournament of my final semester and me being a part of it makes me sit back and realize I’ve been a part of this,” she said. “We have great team chemistry and great attitudes. We’re not in competition with each other out there.”

Sturm credits much of her improvement year-to-year to Potter, who she says took a chance on her out of high school. Now with one spring season to go before her career is done, she can look back to her first year at Furman, her first year to be on a varsity girls team for once, and see that learning from him got her career started on the right foot.

“I wasn’t a highly recruited junior player, and I was fortunate enough to have Mic give me an opportunity at Furman, and Mic helped me,” she said. “I improved a lot that year. One of the coaches told him at a tournament that year, ‘What happened to Sarah? She actually got pretty good,’ which I guess was a compliment.”

Moving on

Sturm will graduate from Alabama this spring with a degree in financial planning. She plans to return home to Spartanburg and will sit in November for the CFP exam to become a certified financial planner. With her she will take a bevy of resources she learned while playing college golf, including teamwork, time management and the value of hard work.

What she will leave behind is what Potter calls the deepest squad he has seen.

“This is the deepest team that I have ever coached,” he said. “We now have seven players that I am comfortable taking to tournaments...Sarah is an important piece of that puzzle, because she has been around me for four years, knows what I expect in regards to preparation and attitude, and is able to communicate that to her teammates.”

This summer, after graduating, she will pack her car and make the five hour drive back to South Carolina along I-20 and I-85, retracing the route she took to Alabama three years ago with a much different attitude. There will be no trepidation, no worries, no anxiety and no sense of homesickness.

She says she’ll play in amateur tournaments to stay sharp, but won’t play professionally. With as talented a team as Alabama has ever had, both she and Potter are expecting big things from this year’s squad, and she wants to leave her golf career on a high note.

“I love golf so much that I think I want to leave it on a good note competitively,” she said. “I think if I tried to make a living playing golf it would ruin my love for it. I’ve been doing this forever and I love it and I don’t want to ruin it.”

Then, when she meets her father and friends on the course for fun, she’ll be playing golf with the boys again.