'99 champion likes change, says she's in comfort zone
The past winner has relatives in the Akron and Pittsburgh areas.
By BRIAN RICHESSON
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
VIENNA -- Jackie Gallagher-Smith comes to the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic confident about her game.
"I feel pretty good, even though we've switched courses every year," she laughed.
Gallagher-Smith won this tournament in 1999 at Avalon Lakes Golf Course, which was redesigned for the 2000 event. Now, it has moved to Squaw Creek Country Club.
"It's a good little golf course," said Gallagher-Smith, after her first 18-hole round on the course Tuesday. "It's in great shape and the greens are pretty big."
What's ahead: Interestingly, Gallagher-Smith compared Squaw Creek to the old Avalon Lakes, the layout on which she won.
Could this be a sign of things to come for the Jupiter, Fla., resident this weekend?
"I felt pretty comfortable out there," she said of her practice round. "It wasn't that I saw too many holes that I was like, 'OK, what am I going to do here?' It was pretty straightforward.
"There's a couple of really good driving holes out there," she said. "Just hitting your irons the right distance will be important."
Gallagher-Smith will get a better feel for Squaw Creek in the next couple of days. She hopes to develop a comfort level on the greens, some of which can become difficult by landing the ball above the hole, forcing a tough putt back.
As for the move from Avalon Lakes, Gallagher-Smith isn't worrying much.
"We played the other one so new that I don't know what it's like right now," she said of Avalon's redesign. "I'm sure it's grown a lot over the year; I'm sure it's very nice. You just have your routine -- go get a feel for the course and go play."
That's exactly what Gallagher-Smith has been doing. She recently played a streak of six straight tournaments before taking time off.
"I've been hitting it really well," said Gallagher-Smith, who's had four top-15 finishes in 2001, including fifth at The Office Depot early this season. "I had a couple of weeks off, so last week I was just getting into the swing of it."
Performance: Gallagher-Smith tied for 27th at last week's Big Apple Classic, shooting 3-under par in the final round.
"That was a positive coming into this week," she said of her finish.
Returning to the Mahoning Valley is always special for Gallagher-Smith. Not only is it the site of her first and only LPGA victory, but she also has family in the region -- her parents live in Indiana, and she has other relatives in the Akron and Pittsburgh areas.
"I look forward to it. I have relatives around, and I get some fan support," she said. "They know who I am a little bit more than most places, and it's nice having people rooting you on."
Living in private housing for this tournament is also a benefit, making Gallagher-Smith's stay relaxing.
"Everyone takes care of me here, so you can't help getting into a good frame of mind," she said.
So, will the positive attitude and recent good play pay off for Gallagher-Smith at the Giant Eagle LPGA Classic again?
"Week to week I'm starting to see that [hard work] pay off," she said. "One of these weeks, everything's going to fall into place. Hopefully, that will be this week."