By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — When Hannah Gasaway first stepped out onto a golf course, she wasn’t looking for the right club combination to lower her score.
She was looking for a shade tree, and a way out.
It was her father, Frank Gasaway — a former professional golfer and current instructor at McDonough’s Georgia National Golf Club — who was responsible for dragging his eighth grade cheerleading daughter out onto the greens with him.
And though you couldn’t tell now by the effortless manner in which the technicalities of the intricately detailed sport flow from her lips while sitting comfortably in Georgia National’s clubhouse, Hannah once loathed the game she now loves.
In fact, she caught a flashback of her loathing, even while providing a diagnostic perspective on the improvements of her putting game and swing that helped produce two low medalist scores — a 38 and a 34 — in her first two outings of the season.
“Remember how you took me out there and it was like 100 degrees outside my first time,” Hannah said to her father, which prompted a hearty laugh from both.
“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I hate this,'” she said.
“Yeah. You were like, what, 11 or 12 (years old), and it was like July and over 100 degrees, and she didn’t want to come back,” Frank Gasaway said between chuckles.
“Never again,” Hannah added.
But unbeknownst to Dad, that horrible initial experience planted a seed in her for the game of golf that finally germinated — seemingly out of nowhere — sometime right before her eighth grade year was done.
“She just, one day out of the blue, told me she wanted to play golf,” he said.
When Hannah explains what happened, there was no light-shining epiphany where she was visited and whisked away to the nearest plush, green golf course by angelic caddies from heaven.
It was really quite simple for her.
“I’d been cheerleading all my life, and I just got tired of cheerleading and thought that golf would get me further in life,” she said.
From having lunch with NBA legend Julius (Dr. J.) Irving and hob-knobbing with state senators around the clubhouse, down to lessons with Dave Womack, the U.S. Amateur winner and Masters participant who’s been one of Frank Gasaway’s students since Womack was 11 years old, Hannah says she’s had priceless experiences as a golfer.
Oh, and don’t forget about the private lessons with Geoff Mangum — widely regarded as one of the world’s best putting coaches.
And it’s all paid off in the standings, whether Hannah is competing locally with her Union Grove High School team — she finished 12th in the state tournament last year, and won the Henry County Golf Athlete of the Year award — or nationally in American Juniors play.
She also finished 12th last year in one of the AJGA’s tournaments where she battled some of the world’s best young golfers. And she wants to finish higher this year.
But when you talk to her, she doesn’t seem too overwhelmed or impressed at all that’s come her way since deciding to give golf a try.
Where other amateur golfers or golf hobbyists may have become star struck at the company she keeps, Hannah takes it in stride.
“It’s great,” she said. “I love having the support around me. The status of the golfers doesn’t really bother me.”
Perhaps it’s because she’s playing at a level that’s putting her on a path to become one of the better young golfers in the state, if not the nation.
Her high finish at last year’s American Junior’s event piqued the interest of college coaches from Dalton State — an upstart program that recently signed one of the top JUCO players in the nation — to South Alabama, William & Mary and Coastal Georgia, just to name a few.
It’s all pretty exciting for her since she says she has her heart set on playing college golf. Just don’t look for her on the LPGA tour circuit any time soon.
“I don’t really want to play professional golf,” she said. “I want to play college golf for sure, though. I love being, like, a part of a team and being able to travel with my team and playing with my team together.”
That’s why she’s rooting for Union Grove’s collective success this season. Hannah was the only Wolverine girls golfer to compete in last year’s state tournament.
She said the additions of Jayla McCray and Dutchtown transfer Vori Billups should help change that, along with the vast improvements she’s made to her own game.
She made her swing better by “getting back to the fundamentals of it,” she said. And of course there’s her work on the putting, which both her and her father say is the difference between a really good golfer and an elite one.
“When you’re talking (American Juniors) level, everybody can drive the ball,” Frank Gasaway said. “At that level it all comes down to your short game.”
And she’s gone to long lengths in order to upgrade it, even braving some of the same extreme weather conditions that almost chased her away from the game before she had a chance to get started.
” I pretty much came and worked every day, whether hot or cold, rain, snow,” she said. “We had a pretty hard winter, but I would still come out and work. I’ve worked really hard on getting down distance and my control, and making my three and four foot puts every day before I leave.”
Her father can attest to it.
“The biggest thing is, for someone who’s only been playing the game a short while, she just works hard without me having to tell her,” Frank Gasaway said. “She just comes out and does it. She shows up. Bad weather, doesn’t matter. There’s literally been days here when she’s the only car in the parking lot.
“That inner drive is something that it takes. As a coach, you know, parents can push their kids into sports. I see it really on a daily basis. But when all that is done on her own, yeah, it’s pretty prideful for a father to watch.”
To be sure, Hannah gets it honestly. She’s a third-generation golfer, following in the foot steps of her father and paternal grandfather. But there was never any pressure from Dad to work the family business, so to speak.
If anything, Frank Gasaway has been chastised for not being a little tougher on Hannah.
“I get in trouble by her mom for not being hard enough on her,” he said. “But the way I see it, golf is a tough enough game to where trying to play it for two people or three people is tough. It’s hard enough on your own out there. Playing as a pro for five years, I kind of understand that part. So relating to her, I try to do the same as any other student.”
Meaning that if Frank sees something in Hannah’s execution, he waits “a day or two” before he brings it to her attention.
“We’ll then go out and replay the whole deal,” he said. “I think that way it opens your eyes up, and then that’s when I think the maturity of golf as a chance to set in, and your golf IQ goes up and that’s when you start to see the difference in your scores.”
Hence the hot start to the young 2015 season. And though lots of individual accolades have come — and undoubtedly will come — her way in what some call the ultimate individual sport, Hannah still has team on her mind.
“For me, I want to finish top 10 in an American Junior event, just because it’s with the best golfers in the world,” she said. “And I have a few of them coming up. But right now, for high school, I really want to concentrate on us going to state as a team so I don’t have to go alone like I did my last two years.”