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Mary Janiga: Named for greatness

October 29, 2015

The game of golf has been with freshman Mary Augusta Janiga from the moment she entered the world. She shares her namesake with the course that takes breathes away  — The Augusta National.

The National, host of one of golf’s four majors — The Masters Tournament — resides in Augusta, Georgia, and  mystifies viewers because of its magnificent beauty featuring rolling hills, blooming azaleas, and pristine green shades of light and dark grasses.

And because of her play on the links in only her first semester on the Mercer Women’s Golf team, Janiga has put forth her best efforts in trying to live up to her middle name. After leading the team with strong performances in the first two tournaments of the fall season, Janiga’s successes culminated at the Fighting Camel Classic in Buies Creek, North Carolina, on October 20 when she captured her first collegiate victory in record-breaking fashion.

After rounds of 72, 73 and 70, the Wellington, Florida, native became only the second player in the tournament’s 21-year history to finish under par as she won by three shots over Campbell’s Nadine White, the 62nd-ranked player in the country according to Golfweek.

Going into spring season, (I) just hope for the best, play my game, keep everything level-headed.”

— Mary Janiga

“I just wanted to end the season with a good tournament,” Janiga said.

Janiga became the first Mercer women’s golfer to earn medalist honors since Katy Harris won the 2014 Forest Oaks Fall Classic. Prior to the tournament, in which the team placed fourth, the freshman said she had played “God awful” in the team’s qualifying rounds. It didn’t get much better once the team arrived in North Carolina.

“Then, we got to the course, and I was hitting it just as bad,” Janiga said. “I was duck-hooking shots. I was like, ‘Coach, I don’t know what’s happening.’ “

But once she reached the first tee in round one, something clicked. She said she hit it “flawlessly” in the first two rounds. And then round three came. The duck-hooks followed, as she hit three on the first five holes.

“I hit three solid drives that entire day,” Janiga said.

But she made up for her struggles off the tee with strong iron play and 26 putts on the day. Her final-round 70 tied for the tournament’s single-round low score; only three players, including Nadine, finished within 10 shots of Janiga after the three-day tournament.

But her impressive performance in the team’s final tournament of the fall season did not come out of nowhere. Janiga finished with the lowest score in each of the team’s first two tournaments, the Golfweek Program Challenge in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and the Johnie Imes Invitational in Columbia, Missouri.

Rounds of 75, 70 and 72 earned her a seventh-place finish in Myrtle Beach as the team finished sixth in its first tournament of the year. In Missouri, Janiga finished in fifth place after rounds of 71, 69, and 71 as the team placed 13th. For the fall season, she registered a scoring average of 71.4 over nine rounds and currently ranks as the 243rd-best player in the country.

But Janiga isn’t the first of her family to experience the world of college golf. Her father, Tim, played at Southern Connecticut State University and passed on his love of golf to Mary.

Janiga said she started playing golf at the age of five years old and tournaments at seven, but she did not become serious until she was 10 or 11. She fiddled with the game even before kindergarten. She first held and swung a golf club at two years old.

“I have a picture of it,” Janiga said.

By eight, she was already breaking world records. With her mom as a witness, Janiga became the youngest female to register a hole-in-one. She recalled the event with a smile on her face.

“It was like the 5th hole at Boca Raton Municipal,” she said. “I hit a 7-8 iron. I hit it, and the wind kind of blew it in, and my mom… we’re looking everywhere for it. We’re looking short, we’re looking in the bunkers, we’re looking over the green. My mom was like, ‘Did you check the hole?’ I went and it was, like, right there.”

But even though Mary’s father loved golf, she said her mother was not the most knowledgeable about the sport.  

“My mom was like, ‘Does that even count?’” Janiga said.

It counted, so much so that Janiga received a certificate from Guinness World Records. That is, until six months later, someone broke her record.

“Then a five-year-old beat me,” Janiga said. “Can’t win.”

Once she became serious about playing tournaments, it augmented her interest in playing college golf — just like her father. In sixth grade, Janiga attended a golf camp hosted by the University of Florida.

“I had so much fun,” Janiga said. “We got to meet some of the girls and the guys on the team. They showed us the facilities and the locker rooms. It was awesome.”

And for some time after her entrancement, she wanted to become a Gator herself — until she reached high school and decided a small school would be a better fit.

“Within the last four years, I was like, small school,” Janiga said. “I can’t do a big school at all. It’s too overwhelming.”

Enter: Mercer University. On the junior golf stage, Janiga said she did not reach her peak until the summer before her senior year. She received many emails from smaller schools and strongly considered Jacksonville State in Alabama. But after going back-and-forth for a year with the program, she decided it wasn’t the place for her.

“I was like, ‘If I haven’t said anything, it’s probably not the right choice for me,’ “ Janiga said.

After winning the Florida Girls’ Junior Championship, Janiga placed top-16 at the USGA Girls’ Junior Championship in the summer of 2014, beating two University of Southern California commits during the process.

So the Florida native started talking to Terese Romeo, also a current freshman on the team, who went to high school in Tampa. After speaking with Gary Guyer, Mercer’s coach at the time, Janiga made a visit.

“The second I stepped on campus, I just knew,” Janiga said. “I played in a golf tournament that weekend, I drove back home, stayed at home for a day, drove back up to Georgia, visited Mercer, came back down and a month later I committed.”

Only weeks before she arrived on campus, Janiga added another victory to her resume, winning the Optimist Junior Championship at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. Her stellar play translated to her first three tournaments, and now, Janiga said she hopes to use a near four-month off-season to make changes to her game for the spring.

“I’m gonna make some swing changes over winter break that I’ve been wanting to make the past couple of years. It’s a long break — a long offseason,” she said. “Going into spring season, (I) just hope for the best, play my game, keep everything level-headed.”

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