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Former Lady Rams Laura Bird Still rolling!
May 7, 2015Purnell Swett High School
PEMBROKE — Laura Bird likes a challenge.
During her first two years at Purnell Swett High School, Bird starred on the court as a volleyball and basketball player. But in her junior year she wanted to try her hand at golf — an endeavor that many thought was a mistake.
That sparked a flame within her.
“I hate when people tell me I can’t do something,” said Bird, a 20-year-old junior on the women’s golf team at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke. “I took it as a challenge and from then on I realized I enjoyed the game.”
Bird has since silenced the critics, going from a stroke average of 86 her freshman year, to finishing the 2014-15 season with a team-best 76.8 stroke average.
As a two-year starter for the Braves, Bird helped her team claim the 2014 Peach Belt Championships. This season, she became one of the school’s top golfers and garnered her first individual postseason honor when she earned a spot on the All-PBC second team. She was also named team MVP at the 2015 Golden Braves awards last week.
“People thought I was crazy when we signed her out of high school because she was barely breaking 90,” said UNCP coach David Synan. “But her development over the years has been unreal.”
Bird finished her season with eight top-20 finishes, including four in the top five. Among her top-5 finishes was a tie for third place in the 2015 Peach Belt Championships, where she sat at 5-over for the tournament before rain cancelled the final day of the event. The result meant Bird just missed out on claiming a berth in the NCAA Division II South Regional.
Bird credits Synan and Purnell Swett golf coach Jamie Locklear for her rapid growth in arguably the toughestsport to play, along with many walks down the fairways at Pinecrest Country Club in Lumberton — her home course.
“Those are the only golf coaches I’ve had, so they’ve really shaped me as far as helping me build my confidence,” Bird said. “When I first started playing I had no idea about golf. My confidence level kind of suffers just because I haven’t been playing long, but if I look back it’s crazy to see where I’ve been and where I am now. It’s really a blessing, I just have to keep believing in my gift.”
Locklear first noticed Bird at a softball fundraising event, where he took the opportunity to ask her about helping him build a golf program at Purnell Swett.
“The one thing I saw with her is she was very athletic,” Locklear said. “She told me she liked (golf) but never played, so I got a club, told her to swing it, showed her a few things and after her third swing she was smashing the ball. From then on her growth was amazing. I couldn’t believe how she was absorbing things.”
At that point, Locklear knew Bird had a chance because of two character traits he believes are vital to a golfer’s success.
“Golf is such a mental game,” Locklear said. “Laura does not lose her composure. She can triple-bogey a hole and bounce right back. But she also has a killer instinct. She doesn’t really show it but it’s there. I told her ‘You might not believe this but you’re built for this game.’ I told people before she graduated she would be number one on (UNCP’s team) and she’s let the legacy grow.”
While Bird continues to thrive on the course, she’s just as much a force in the classroom. She was named an Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar this year, an honor student-athletes of color who best exemplify academic and athletic excellence, maintaining at least a 3.2 GPA.
“She’s close to the most perfect student-athlete I’ve had in my time as a coach,” Synan said. “She comes from a great family. Her father (James) was a star baseball player at UNCP and her mother (Shannon) was a great teacher. Laura is fantastic.”
As a Pembroke native, Bird swells with pride at the opportunity to represent her home and university.
“Playing for Pembroke and being a local has been awesome and I take pride in it,” she said. “When I go off to play at tournaments I’m able to say, ‘Hey I’m from Pembroke’ and it gives me extra motivation.”
Bird is always looking for her next challenge, fueling the flame that was kindled during her prep years. As she prepares for her final season as a collegiate golfer, she said the goals may change but her mindset remains the same.
“When I’m out on the course I always think, ‘Lord, wherever this ball goes, I want to glorify you.’ So whether I’m in thetrees or in the fairway, I’ll take it moment by moment with each shot,” She said. “Being so close to regionals will propel me to keep that in sight for my senior year and I want to keep pushing.”