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Toughened Up by Competing Against Boys, Burke Emerged as Top Player on PHS Golf

STRAIGHT SHOOTER: Princeton High golfer Laura Burke displays her swing form. Senior Burke, who has been the team’s top player the last two seasons, enjoyed a superb final campaign, taking third in the Mercer County girls’ golf tournament and 21st in the girls’ NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

STRAIGHT SHOOTER: Princeton High golfer Laura Burke displays her swing form. Senior Burke, who has been the team’s top player the last two seasons, enjoyed a superb final campaign, taking third in the Mercer County girls’ golf tournament and 21st in the girls’ NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

Having divided her athletic efforts between golf and soccer, Laura Burke faced a crossroads in 2011 during her freshman year at Princeton High.

“I was playing golf pretty well my freshman year and then I broke my foot playing soccer so I didn’t play in any matches,” recalled Burke.

“I had been playing soccer since third grade. After I broke my foot, my parents said I had to pick one sport so I chose golf.”

Burke made the right choice, emerging as the No. 2 player on the PHS golf team in her sophomore season and then holding down the top spot that last two years.

While being the leading player can be a burden, Burke has enjoyed that role.

“I don’t look at it like that,” said Burke. “I am very competitive; the high school matches didn’t have as much pressure as the tournaments I play in the summer.”

After taking up golf as a grade-schooler, Burke became more competitive by middle school.

“My dad is a golf fanatic so I started when I was young,” said Burke. “I started getting serious in 8th grade. I was taking lessons at Bedens Brook and my coach said I was pretty talented.”

Fitting in with the PHS squad proved to be a serious challenge at first. “It was kind of tough; there is no girls’ team so I had to play with the boys,” said Burke.

“The top boys’ player in the state (Fraser Graham) was on the team at the time so that was pretty intimidating.”

Longtime PHS head coach Sheryl Severance played a key role in helping Burke feel welcome.

“I have gotten so close to Sheryl, she is like my mother at school,” said Burke.

Getting more intense about her game after her junior year prompted Burke to take a brief hiatus from golf before her final PHS campaign.

“Last summer, I tried to play everything,” said Burke. “I was in a different tournament every week, I was all over the country. I had some trouble with my swing; I wasn’t playing my best. I took a break this fall and then worked with a different coach. I felt I was really playing well coming into the spring.”

Burke has enjoyed some highlights this spring, carding a memorable 38 in a win over Lawrence, taking third in the county girls’ tourney, and ending her season by placing 21st in the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions.

“In the 38 against Lawrence; I had three birdies and a double, it was a weird round,” said Burke.

“I got third in the counties,” said Burke. “I double-bogeyed the last 2 holes so I was pretty disappointed. The Tournament of Champions was nice, playing at Cherry Valley. I shot a 79.”

In assessing her strengths as a player, Burke points to consistency off the tee and on the green.

“It is definitely my driving; I like my RocketBallz (TaylorMade driver),” said Burke, who will be taking a gap year before matriculating to Lehigh where she is hoping to play for the women’s golf team.

“I can put it right in the fairway. I had some trouble in the past with pulling it. When I am practicing my putting, I can do really well with that.”

As Burke reflects on her high school career, she believes that taking on the boys has made her a tougher player.

“I think the experience of playing with the boys has really helped me,” said Burke.

“They put a lot of pressure on me in practice and it was a good feeling to beat them. It helped me gain confidence and has made me more competitive in the girls events.”

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