Golfer gets past pain of 'crazy semester,' leads Vanderbilt into SEC championship

Thursday, April 19, 2012 at 9:25pm

The number puzzled Vanderbilt women’s golf coach Greg Allen.

Eighty-six?

Allen did not see that coming. Not from All-American hopeful Lauren Stratton. Especially after she shot even par over the first two rounds, which put her in third place, two strokes behind the leader, with one round to go in the LSU Golf Classic last month. In contention to win her first collegiate golf tournament, the junior recorded four double-bogeys, six bogeys and no birdies to finish with a career-worst 86 and fall into a tie for 27th.

“[Assistant coach] Holly [Clark] and I were seeing shots that we’ve never seen Stratty hit before,” Allen said. “An 86. We’re thinking, ‘What in the world?’ ”

Barely 15 minutes out of Baton Rouge, the culprit revealed itself.

Driving back to Nashville on a sleeper bus, “excruciating pain” moved from Stomach’s stomach to her back, forcing the bus driver to stop at a local hospital in Mississippi.

It turned out Stratton had played with a kidney stone.

After having the “best semester of my college career” in the fall, the Spring Hill native said she hasn’t clicked this spring. Still, heading into this weekend’s SEC Championship in Fayetteville, Ark., Stratton ranked second on the team behind senior Marina Alex in stroke average (72.7). She has six top 20 finishes and twice finished in the top five.

The final stretch begins Friday with the SEC tournament and continues on May 10 at an NCAA Regional. The Commodores hope to qualify for the NCAA Championship, which is May 22-25 on their home course – Vanderbilt Legends Club in Franklin.

By then, Stratton wants to be peaking — and pain free.

“I was in the hunt to win a golf tournament and then that decides to pop up on the final day,” she said. “It gets me back out there to try to get back in the hunt again. It’s coming. Golf is a cycle. I feel close. I feel really comfortable. I just need to make a couple more putts every round and, hey, I’ll be right where I was.”

Before that forgettable final round, Stratton had complained of a horrible stomachache.

“I just didn’t feel like myself on the golf course and it just ate me alive,” Stratton said.

Local physicians initially believed the it had passed but when she saw a specialist in Nashville that turned out not to be the case. A day later, she underwent surgery to have it removed.

“That is just like Stratty — a tough competitor,” Allen said. “We were at Stanford her freshman year and she had a fever. In fact, she had such a fever that she didn’t know what she shot. She ended up shooting 67 that day. So we know fever for her she plays great. Kidney stone, no so great.”

Stratton also has battled arthritis in her hip and a stress fracture in her back but “it is nothing compared to that.” She awaits more test results to disclose the cause of the kidney stone but she was told it most likely is hereditary. Her father also had one.

A week after the surgery she returned to practice and got in a couple hours of work just one day before the team left to compete in a golf tournament in Arizona. She finished a team-best tied for 32nd.

“I was just happy to be playing again,” Stratton said. “It has been a crazy semester.”

SEC tennis: Vanderbilt, ranked 43rd in the nation, avenged an early-season loss and scored a stunning 4-3 upset over No. 19 LSU in the opening round of the SEC tennis tournament Thursday at Starkville, Miss.

The Commodores' Austin Gonzales won a three-set match at 7-6 in the third set at No. 4 singles to finally end the four-hour marathon.

Vanderbilt plays top seed Kentucky in the quarterfinals Friday.

The 23rd-ranked Vanderbilt women blanked Mississippi State 4-0 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the SEC women's tournament at Oxford, Miss.

The Commodores meet host Ole Miss Friday in the quarterfinals.