ATHENS, Ga. — Even as Angela Jerman looked down the No. 1 fairway at the University of Georgia Golf Course Friday, she saw more than the first hole of an important tournament.
With eight ranked teams — including No. 1 Auburn — and nine individuals in the top 25 included in the field for the Liz Murphey Collegiate Classic, this weekend was a good chance for defending national champion Georgia to shake off a sluggish start to its season.
Jerman is a crucial part of Georgia's hopes of defending its 2001 Southeastern Conference and NCAA titles, but the senior from Hardaway High School can't help but look past her final college season. Like so many seniors, Jerman is thinking about what will come after college.
For Jerman, that means this is time to do everything she can to put herself in position for a professional career on the LPGA tour.
"It's hard to separate the two,'' Jerman said of her college career and professional aspirations. "The competition we have here, a good amount of the players will be trying to do the same thing.''
So Jerman, who entered the weekend ranked seventh in the Sagarin Index of the nation's top players, knows that others shooting for medalist honors this weekend might soon be competing with her for positions in the LPGA qualifying school.
"To be honest, it has driven me more than anything has before,'' Jerman said. "I know I'm going to be turning pro and will be playing against the top players in the world.''
Added Jerman: "My focus has gotten a lot more narrow. I'm just trying to get more and more confident with every aspect of my game.''
One year ago, Coach Todd McCorkle worried about Jerman's confidence until she enjoyed a breakthrough first collegiate win at the Lady Gamecock.
After top 15 individual finishes in the NCAA East regional and the NCAA championships, a personal highlight for Jerman after the season came when she carded a career-low 65 to win the U.S. Open qualifier in Brentwood, Tenn. That came against a field of 50 LPGA players.
Rounds of 79-72 were not good enough to survive the cut at the U.S. Open, but Jerman was able to compare her game to the world's top players. She also learned from playing a practice round with Annika Sorenstam.
"I saw I've got enough to play on that level,'' Jerman said. "I could say I've got a pretty good game. It made me realize what I could have.
"It was great to watch the best player in the world play golf, just to see how calm and consistent Annika is. My main goal is to feel that comfortable with my putter so I can make those putts.''
Jerman has been projected by many to be a future pro since, as a freshman in high school, she helped the Hardaway boys team to the Class AAA state title.
Now, Jerman is left as Georgia's lone senior after the exits of Laura Henderson and Reilley Rankin from the 2001 team. Summer Sirmons of Cuthbert's Randolph Southern was in the same freshman class with Jerman, but Sirmons sat out one year with back problems and is a junior.
"I have put higher expectations for myself, being that this is the last year,'' Jerman said. "As a freshman and sophomore, I also was trying to adjust to being a college student. Now I feel I can concentrate more on golf.''
As a result, Jerman says she is working harder on her game than at any other time in her career. She opened play Friday with a 1-over 73, good for a tie for third, to help Georgia to a first-round lead.
"I'm trying to accomplish a certain goal each day,'' she said. "I won't leave until I accomplish that goal and I feel I'm a better player.''
Charles can be reached here: CEOdum@aol.com