By RODNEY PAGE
© St. Petersburg Times, published September 7, 2000
Megan Riley could hear the taunts. She could hear the muffled laughter as she teed off on the first hole.
Her nerves were so shaken she could barely take the club back. And when she hit the ball, it rarely went far and rarely went straight.
Riley was a 14-year-old freshman who thought it would be fun to try out for the Largo golf team. But after the first week, she wasn't having any fun. She'd go home, put her clubs away and cry. She thought about quitting, maybe trying another sport or just giving up altogether.
And then she would wipe away the tears and vow to get the last laugh. She was going to become a golfer. She was not going to quit.
"When I played with the guys team, they kind of made fun of me, and that kicked me in the butt," said Riley, now a senior. "There were some times when I wanted to quit. Then I said, "That's it.' I started working really hard."
As a freshman, Riley broke 50 for nine holes about half the time. She spent all summer playing junior tournaments and practicing. In her sophomore year, Riley was still the second-best girl at Largo. Courtney Burdick, who was a year older, was Largo's No. 1 girls golfer, but Riley closed the gap.
She now was breaking 50 on a regular basis, and her scores hovered in the low 40s. She finished second behind Clearwater's Jenny Gleason at districts, beating Burdick in a one-hole playoff. Last fall, Riley could break 40, but she had a bad day at districts and didn't finish in the top four. Undetered, Riley had a successful summer season, which included a five-stroke win at the Sam Parks Junior Invitational. Now she is Largo's lone girl golfer, so she'll play for the boys team and then participate in the girls district tournament. And now there is dead silence on the tee when Riley tees off.
"I never would've guessed this (as a freshman)," Riley said. "I shot 38 from the blues (last) Tuesday, and I never would've thought that was possible."
In a relatively short span of three years, Riley has gone from a hacker to a possible scholarship.
"She's an example of somebody that really worked at it and is going to get something out of it," Largo coach Bill Schroeder said. "And now she's got something that she can take with her the rest of her life."
Riley is one of the favorites to win a district title, and she also has a chance to do well at state. It's not by accident.
She has a convenient part-time job at Belleair Country Club, which allows her to use the range and putting green as well as play on the West Course.
She also works with Lansbrook pro Bobby Capobianco.
Riley said there isn't a day when she's not practicing or playing somewhere. Probably because the memories of her freshman year are still vivid.
"There's days when I don't feel good and I think I should stay home," Riley said. "Then I'll feel guilty and end up going to putt. You catch the bug, and you don't want to stop."