For the last two years, Jamie Gracie '17 has been at the forefront of Amherst College women's golf.
Gracie picked up the game at a very early age – about 5 years old – when her father cut down some of his old clubs and took her to the driving range. Interestingly enough, Gracie didn't take to the game right away.
"It wasn't until the end of middle school when my best friend also started playing golf that I started to get into it more seriously," Gracie said. "Even playing in high school was a last minute decision, but I think it was a good one."
It certainly was a good decision. Originally wanting to stay on the West coast, the Long Beach, Calif. native decided to pursue colleges on the East coast that could provide the balance of academics and athletics that she was looking for.
"When it really came down to it, golf actually played a pretty big role in my decision," Gracie explained. "I felt like Amherst had the biggest emphasis on school coming first over golf, while still being a competitive team."
In her first collegiate event – a two-day invitational at New York University (NYU) – she carded rounds of 79 and 77 and finished first on the team and sixth overall. From there, Gracie's collegiate golf career was off and running.
With seven top 15 finishes in eight tournaments during her first season in 2013-14, the standout golfer carded a season-low opening round of 73 at the Williams College Fall Classic. She followed that with a 77, to earn individual medalist honors to highlight an incredible debut campaign that saw her place in the top 10 four times.
"I didn't' really know what to expect coming in freshman year," Gracie stated. "I had no idea if I would even get to go to the tournaments, so it was fun to get to play in all of them and have a few good rounds."
Like any good athlete, Gracie is focused on finding ways to keep improving.
"After the spring season I did a comparison between my year-long cumulative strokes, and the top player from Williams College," Gracie remembered. "I think she was something like 60 shots better than me. Our good rounds were similar, but her bad ones were so much better, so that's what I worked on last year. I definitely made some solid improvements, but I also have a lot of work to do."
For former head coach Michelle Morgan, who coached Gracie in 2013-14 and 2014-15 before retiring following an influential 37-year tenure at Amherst, Gracie's recruitment was in every way a home run.
"Of course her scoring average was attractive, as well as her passion for the game with a commitment to get better," Morgan stated. "But it was more about her character. You can tell a lot about a person when one plays on a golf course, and I knew I had a keeper!"
Morgan went on to further emphasize Gracie's commitment to the sport, and attributes her "never give up" attitude as one of the driving forces behind her immediate impact on the golf team.
"She gets better and better because she continues to refine the small things," Morgan explained. "The game is simple if we allow our minds to not interfere so much. She continues to work on the small technical aspects of the game, particularly in her short game, and is not afraid to be creative in her shot making. She is also gaining more experience about how to dissect a golf course, determining when to be aggressive and attack, and when to be more conservative when a hole proves a little more difficult. This is truly where she is becoming a better player."
Following that impressive first year, Gracie turned in a phenomenal second season in 2014-15 as she finished as Amherst's leading scorer in all eight invitationals, placing in the top 15 in all eight, and in the top 10 in all but two events. Gracie notched another individual medalist accolade at the Mount Holyoke College Invite, placed second at the Ann. S. Batchelder Invitational hosted by Wellesley College, and tabbed third place honors at the Purple & White's Jack Leaman home invitational last April.
After carding an impressive seven rounds in the 70s as a first-year, Gracie improved upon that mark by logging a staggering 12 of 15 rounds in the 70s as a sophomore, including a collegiate-low score of 72 on day two of the Mount Holyoke Invite en route to earning top honors.
Her success did not go unnoticed in the golf world, as she was selected to compete as one of just six individuals in the NCAA Division III Championship which was comprised of a 21-team field, and took place over a four-day span from May 12-15 at the El Campeon Golf Course at the Mission Inn Resort & Club in Howey-in-the-Hills, Florida.
"The NCAA tournament was awesome," Gracie commented. "I wanted to play well for sure, but I was proud to go regardless. I wish the whole team could have gone, I think it would have been a different experience, but I was happy to get to represent Amherst and the NESCAC. I got a lot of great support from my teammates and other people at Amherst."
At the four-day national championship, Gracie carded an opening round of 85, and shaved five strokes off her day two score to post an 80; followed with a round of 79 on day three; and turned in an 80 on day four to finish tied for 25th overall in the 110-player field.
"Coaching an individual at the national championship is a challenge because you are with the player for six days on the golf course – two practice rounds, and four competitive rounds," explained Morgan, offering insight to the endeavor from a coaching perspective. "It is a test of balancing when to provide advice and when to back off. Golf is a game where the player needs to feel comfortable with her decisions about how to approach each shot. We agreed that if she wanted my input, she would ask. We spent more time talking out loud about what she visualized for certain shots, which helped ensure that she was taking in all information available to make her decisions."
While at the championship banquet held the night before the final round of play, Gracie was honored by the Women's Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) when she was selected to the All-East Region team. In addition to being one of just 10 players to be selected from the region, she was also one of two players awarded from a NESCAC institution.
"My take away is that Jamie proved she is one of the best Division III golfers in the country, and probably the nicest young woman in the entire field," Morgan stated. "Her championship experience has made her a better competitor, and she has made me a better coach."
Not only has Gracie excelled on the golf course, but she has also thrived in the classroom, a feat not uncommon to Amherst student-athletes, but one that is not simply achieved either.
A double major in Spanish and Economics, Gracie has twice been named an All-American Scholar by the WGCA, and last fall, she earned NESCAC All-Academic honors as a sophomore. As Morgan notes, success in the classroom has translated to success on the golf course, and vice versa.
"Jamie devotes quality time to any work that she is doing whether it is in preparation for her classes or practicing golf," Morgan said. "She optimizes the time available to her each day so that she can be successful in all areas of her life. She knows how to prioritize, and understands when to make sacrifices so that she can be an accomplished student and golfer. It is evident that she has a passion to learn."
In the fall of 2015, Gracie is studying abroad in Seville, Spain, and will miss out on an opportunity to qualify for the NCAA tournament as an individual this year. However, Morgan is quick to note that Gracie's international experiences will far outweigh missing out on an intercollegiate season of golf, and the junior golfer echoes that sentiment.
"I knew before attending college that I wanted to study abroad," Gracie said. "The fact that I could play golf at Amherst and study abroad was a big plus for me, so I am glad I actually got the opportunity to go."
Though she will be fully immersed in the Spanish culture – something she has been looking forward to – Gracie is eager to return to the Pioneer Valley in the spring and be reunited with her golf teammates. As she notes, despite her tremendous individual success, collegiate golf is very much a team game where individual accolades are secondary.
"My only real goal [for the spring season] is to come back and fit into the awesome improvements the team is making this fall," Gracie explained. "Their scores have been great, so hopefully I can come back and play well enough to help them get even lower."