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Ingram handles pressure like a champion


When Sarah LeBrun Ingram has her golf game under control, all facets of it radiate brilliance.

This was true several times in the 1980s, when she emerged on the local sporting scene as a shy teen-ager, then went on to earn All-America recognition at Duke.

Never had Ingram, 25, reached such a consistent level of superior play, however, as she displayed during the past year. The highlights were her first Women's Western Amateur title and the Women's Mid-Amateur championship, her first United States Golf Association crown.

For these, and other reasons, it came as no surprise when she was announced as a member of this year's U.S. Curtis Cup team.

Ingram, a former Owings Mills resident, still holds membership in Green Spring Valley Hunt Club, although she has lived in Nashville, Tenn., since her marriage to David Ingram two years ago.

"Considering the level of competition, it was my best summer," Ingram said. "Still, the thing of which I am most proud is I found out I can handle pressure a lot better. Of nine sudden-death matches, I won eight of them."

One of those overtime efforts came in the scheduled 36-hole final of the Western. It took 41 holes, and some gritty play on the part of Ingram and Vicki Goetze, acknowledged as the No. 1 women's amateur in the country, before Ingram won.

In the Mid-Amateur in Scottsdale, Ariz., Ingram almost didn't make it out of the first round. She had to win two of the last three regulation holes to force overtime against former U.S. and British Amateur champion Carol Semple Thompson, then won with a birdie on the third extra hole.

Conversely, her championship match was of the highest caliber, as she beat Martha Lang, 6 and 5. She had six birdies in the necessary 13 holes, and capped the performance by chipping in the last hole.

"It was exciting, because it was a tough, grueling week, and I hung in there," she said.

Before last year, Ingram called a course-record 67 at the University of North Carolina and a final-round victory for her first Maryland State Golf Association Women's Amateur $ championship the two best rounds of her life.

In the Maryland State final at the Chevy Chase Country Club, she started par-birdie-eagle against perennial amateur rival Tina Barrett (before she turned professional) in a meeting of 20-year-old collegiate standouts.

At the finish, Ingram was 5-under -- and never close to a bogey -- for 14 holes. Barrett had played even-par and was a 5-and-4 loser. With the exception of one hole, Ingram had her ball inside 20 feet for birdie or eagle on every hole.

For all of her success, Ingram says she listens to only three people when it comes to her golf game -- Green Spring professional Curtis Mabry, who nurtured the early interest and still gives help when asked; Dick Tiddy, a Florida teaching professional, who rounded some rough edges; and her husband, a scratch golfer and former standout on the Duke men's team.

Mabry took time out the other day to talk about Ingram.

"Sarah was fortunate that, from the beginning, her parents supported and encouraged her without being pushy or demanding," he said. Mabry learned the game as a caddy at Green Spring, later became an assistant professional to John Flattery, and has been the club's head professional since 1974. Ingram is one of several of the area's top amateurs who have learned under his guidance.

Sarah LeBrun was an excellent athlete, growing up as the older )) of two daughters of Henry and Gill LeBrun of Owings Mills. Early on, there were swimming and tennis, but by the time she entered her teens, she had decided on golf. At 14, she won the women's club championship at Green Spring.

At Garrison Forest School, she played basketball to stay active in the off-season, but the rest of the time, it was golf.

And what does Mabry remember most about her? "Her keen interest from the beginning, the enjoyment of competition, and perhaps most important, her perseverance. She'd come down after school and practice chipping and putting for hours on end," he said.

Her father might have had something to do with that.

Although supportive, he knew he couldn't say "good shot" every time. Once in a while, he had to tell her she was playing terribly.

Now, he said: "She played other sports, but she played good golf. I encouraged her to take advantage of those fall afternoons for practice or playing. If not, there were girls in Florida, or California or Texas who would beat her brains out."

Mabry added: "It's always been fun working with her. She had the willingness to learn, the desire to excel and the self-discipline enhance those skills. And it was true for her academics as for her athletics.

"To be consistently good requires discipline and so much hard work. The flaws show up in the short game. If you haven't practiced, the feel and touch are inconsistent. That's why one of Sarah's real strengths is her short game. She had the self-discipline and patience to work on that part of her game."

Of her parents' support, Ingram said: "They gave me the opportunity to do what I wanted, but they always said, 'Jack-of-all-trades, master of none.' Their point was clear."

One of golf's fascinations is the player's inability to master the game. However, you have to like the way Ingram goes after it.

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