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Virginia’s Lauren Coughlin takes her shot at Women’s PGA Championship

Lauren Coughlin tees off at 7 a.m. Thursday in the first round of the Women's PGA Championship. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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It was November 2021, and Lauren Coughlin was almost out.

The 2016 ACC women’s golf individual champion at Virginia was about to finish her second full season on the LPGA Tour, and it could have been her last for a while. With one tournament left, the Pelican Women’s Championship, the Chesapeake, Va., native was in 106th place in the standings. She would have to crack the top 100 to secure an LPGA Tour card for 2022.

By turning in a 9-under-par 271 in Belleair, Fla., to tie for 16th, Coughlin did just that. But now, not even midway through 2022, Coughlin is trying to avoid falling into the same trap.

“I really enjoyed my offseason,” she said Wednesday while walking away from the sixth hole of the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda. Coughlin was midway through a practice round ahead of Thursday’s start of the Women’s PGA Championship when the inclement weather horn blared.

“I just took a little too much time for myself,” the 29-year-old added.

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Whether it was time off or the tough competition, Coughlin started the season slowly, missing the cut at five of her first six events. By the end of April, all she had to show for her efforts was a tie for 32nd at the JTBC Classic.

It was early, but Coughlin knew this was a situation ripe for stress.

It was in those moments, Coughlin said, that conversations with her husband — former Virginia offensive lineman John Pond, who walked the course with her Wednesday — helped bring her back into the present.

“[I’m] just trying to be myself, enjoy and have fun,” Coughlin said. “And I think if I do that, then good things will happen.”

Good things started happening.

Coughlin tied for 35th at the Founders Cup in May. She opened June with the biggest paycheck of her career, $29,010, by tying for 12th at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

“At ShopRite was the first time I’ve ever been in a final group out here,” Coughlin said. “And so I think it just kind of took a lot out of me mentally.”

That mental hangover led to her missing the cut at the Meijer LPGA Classic last weekend. She sits 90th in the LPGA standings and will tee off at 7 a.m. Thursday for her third major championship appearance at a Congressional course that will test her skills.

Coughlin prides herself on her distance, particularly with her hybrids and long irons. On a course playing at 6,831 yards, an adept long game is a powerful ally. Coughlin ranks 42nd in average drive distance and 37th in driving accuracy.

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And while she’s 17th in greens in regulation, she’s 153rd in putting average. If she’s unlucky enough to land in a bunker, her chances become even worse; she ranks 156th in sand save percentage.

“It’s pretty generous off the fairways, but the bunkers look pretty penal,” said Hannah Green, the 2019 Women’s PGA Championship winner. “The greens are quite slow, but I don’t think they can make them any quicker because of the severity of the slope, so I think getting used to that is going to be one of the challenges. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see girls miss putts short.”

A tough course and a crowded field stand between Coughlin and her first made cut at a major. But she has beaten the odds before, whether it was clawing her way back to a tour card last season or pulling herself out of a slump this year.

At least this time, Coughlin won’t be alone. Her parents, brother and in-laws are just some of the many family members and friends who will watch her play.

“It’s going to be really cool,” she said. “And then, you know, whenever I go home on Sunday, it’s only a [three-hour] drive.”