May 9, 2013
STANFORD, Calif. - Sally Watson knew her life had changed during her first week at Stanford. The freshman from Earlsferry, Scotland, played golf with former U.S. secretary of states George Shultz and Condoleezza Rice at Cypress Point Club in Pebble Beach.
"That was a pretty incredible way to start off my Stanford experience," Watson recalled this week.
Now a month away from graduation, she'll try and help the 11th-ranked Cardinal women's golf team earn a spot in the NCAA Championships this week in the NCAA West Regional at Stanford Golf Course. Twenty-four teams are vying for eight berths in the NCAA Championships, May 21-24 at the University of Georgia Golf Course.
"It's crazy," said Watson. "Time goes by so fast. I'm just so excited about the next three weeks. I'm trying to stay focused on what I have to do right now and trying to finish my college career on the best possible note."
The steady and soft-spoken Watson helped turn around the Stanford program in 2009-2010, when she made second-team All-Pac-10 and was an honorable mention All-American. Watson earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a sophomore and junior, and has collected three collegiate victories and 22 top-20 finishes during her career.
Recently, she was named the Pac-12 Women's Golf Scholar-Athlete of the Year, the first Cardinal to receive the award. Majoring in international relations, she has a 3.75 cumulative GPA. Of course, her academic advisor is Professor Condoleezza Rice.
"I don't think there's anyone better to be advising you in international relations," she said. "It's been a great experience and she's been very helpful. Every time I've had a conversation with her, I feel like I've learned something and come away from it better equipped to succeed in this world."
At the Shultz Cup this year, a fundraiser for the men's and women's golf programs hosted by Shultz, he gave his traditional state of the world talk before dinner, then opened it up for questions from the student-athletes. Watson was among the first to raise her hand. She wanted to know how the U.S. was aiding and educating developing countries to reduce pollution before it becomes a widespread problem.
"Is there a way of helping countries not go through an industrial revolution like we did to help the environment?" asked Watson, clearly impressing Shultz. "Obviously, it's just a lot more costly to implement energy-efficient models. How realistic is it for the U.S. to spend millions of dollars helping other countries? It's almost more trying to change the mentality of the world."
"Time goes by so fast. I'm just so excited about the next three weeks."
- Sally Watson
An accomplished junior player, Watson has represented Great Britain & Ireland twice in Curtis Cup matches, and has played in the U.S. and British Opens. Her lifelong goal has been to play golf for a living, and she will turn professional after graduation.
"That's been my dream for a while now and it's really exciting to take that next step and see what I can do with my game," said Watson. "It's definitely difficult to put all the energy into your golf when you're trying to study. I'm pretty excited to see what I can do when all my energy is focused on golf."
Not that she would change anything.
"I take a lot of pride in playing for Stanford," she said. "I've wanted to see this program succeed for the past four years, and I've been working really hard to try and do my part. Hopefully, we can finish my senior year on a high. We definitely have the potential. It would be nice to really play great this week and contend for a national title."
The team always comes first in college golf, and Watson has enjoyed that aspect. But she's also eager to be on her own and see what see can accomplish individually.
"I love playing for our team, but it's also quite nice just to start playing for yourself again," said Watson, whose 74.2 average this year is tied for second-best on the squad. "It takes a little bit of a load off your shoulder. I don't think you ever let the team down, but I think when you're a competitive person and you don't have a good day out there, it's always a little tough when you feel like you didn't help your team as much as you would have liked."
Watson will return to Scotland to hone her game in mini-tour and European Development Tour tournaments, then attend the LPGA and Ladies European Tour Qualifying School in the fall.
"Hopefully, I'll have somewhere to play next year and just kind of see how I can develop my game from there," she said. "I have a lot of potential and a lot of things I can get better at."
Watson came to Stanford figuring she would major in economics to become more business savvy. But teammate Lila Barton, who was already being mentored by Professor Rice, encouraged her to investigate international relations.
"I definitely lucked out," said Watson. "Some of the best advice I received was don't try and find a major because you think it's going to help you out in your next career. Just find something that you're really passionate about and study that."
Watson still smiles when she reflects on her first week of school. That experience is part of what makes Stanford such a special place.
"It's got to be the people," she said. "It doesn't matter where you are or what you are doing. If you are around great people, you're probably going to have a great time."
-- By Mark Soltau, Stanford Athletics
* * *
Palo Alto native Mark Soltau has spent his whole life and much of his career around Stanford sports. A sportswriter for 35 years, Soltau spent 16 (1981-97) at the San Francisco Examiner, where he covered not only the Cardinal, but all five 49ers Super Bowl-championship teams. Golf always has been his passion and Soltau served as the sport's beat writer for the Examiner, national golf writer for CBS Sportsline, contributing editor to Golf Digest, and since 1997 has been the editor of tigerwoods.com.