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'99 champion likes change, says she's in comfort zone



Published: Wed, July 25, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



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."




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