CT Golf News

Week of Sept. 7, 1997

Elizabeth Janangelo: A maturity well beyond her years

By Bruce Berlet

Though originally more of an advocate of other sports, Elizabeth Janangelo was seemingly meant to play golf.

She remembers taking her first swings at age 2 and riding in a golf cart with her father and brother a year later. She'd mimic John and John Jr., then began her drive for what she hopes is a pro career with modest goals. "I'd jam my little bag between theirs," Janangelo said, smiling through her braces. "I just wanted to get the ball past the 50-yard marker on the practice range."

At 4, Janangelo was lofting whiffle balls over the roof of the Renbrook School in West Hartford with her nursery school teacher. At 5, she was on the practice range at West Hartford's Rockledge Country Club, amazing course pro Rich Crowe with an unorthodox modified baseball grip.

CTGolfer Online photo

At 13 years old, Elizabeth Janangelo of West Hartford is the youngest State Women's Amateur champion.

"I knew from the beginning she was going to be good because of her natural ability and natural motion," Crowe said. "She's always absolutely killed the ball, which is a big advantage. And she has a pretty good short game, a tremendous feel, to back it up."

Janangelo, now 13, demonstrated all those qualities in mid-August when she won the Connecticut State Women's Amateur Golf Championship by three shots, becoming the youngest champion in state history. She also is believed to be the second youngest to win a state title in the United States. Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez was 12 when she won the New Mexico State Amateur in 1969, but that was a match-play event.

Ironically, Janangelo wouldn't have had a shot at such glory if she had beat Stacey Wolejko of Hatfield, Mass., in a playoff for the Connecticut Section PGA title in the Maxfli PGA Championship. If so, Janangelo would have been at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., instead of Simsbury Farms Golf Course for the Women's Amateur.

After making history, Janangelo had to answer 50 congratulatory phone calls and wrote nearly as many thank-you notes. Her success wasn't all that surprising to her brother, who also has a 5 handicap and is among many male opponents who now show her respect.

"At first she'd walk on the tee and guys would go, 'Oh, come on, this kid's out here, and it's a girl,' " said John Jr., 18, who chauffeured sis to many tournaments and caddied for her in the State Amateur. `"Then she'd rip it down the fairway, and it was comical the way the guys' eyes would pop open. Now they all talk to her and want her as a partner." It was part of Liz's strategy.

"You work harder if you play against older, better people," said Janangelo, who usually plays from the men's tees. "It used to be me and my dad against my brother and his friend, and after we finished I'd work on what hadn't gone well that day."

Because of her playing ability, etiquette on the course and knowledge of the rules, Janangelo has played at Rockledge since she was 10, four years sooner than the town of West Hartford rules normally allow.

The scary part is that until this year, Janangelo was more interested in soccer, playing goalie and midfield, and baseball, where she led the West Hartford Little League in home runs (five) in 1996. She still plays on travel soccer and basketball teams in West Hartford. "The other sports were like cross-training for golf," said Janangelo, who began eighth grade at Sedgwick Middle School on Sept. 2. But the individuality and enjoyment of golf peaked Janangelo's interest and helped her enter the record book.

Doing things ahead of schedule seemingly has followed Janangelo since she was born nine weeks premature and spent six weeks in the intensive care unit. But from a tyke of 2 pounds, Janangelo has grown to a sturdy, 5-foot-5 teenager who launches golf balls as much as 240 yards. It's comparable to Nicole Faniola, 16, of Old Lyme, who in June became the youngest winner of the Connecticut Women's Golf Association Championship, a match-play event. Janangelo and Faniola beat the age record held by LPGA player Caroline Keggi of Middlefield, who was 18 when she won both tournaments in 1984. On Aug. 28, Janangelo and Faniola met head-to-head in the Oxford Junior Tournament of Champions, with Faniola winning in a playoff.

"I must have been in a cave for five years, because the ballstriking of these young kids is amazing," said 13-time state champion Marcia Dolan of Danbury, who played with Janangelo in the first round of the State Amateur. "I don't think even Keggi, at 13, had the capabilities Liz has. And Liz has a great demeanor. She hit some bad shots, but I didn't see any anger, any loss of control. She's mature beyond her years."

Janangelo, who was second in the CWGA Junior Championship, has to improve her putting and course management. And the Janangeloes have addressed the possibility of too much too soon by turning down invitations to several national tournaments.

"There's no point doing something and not working hard at it," said Liz, a high-honors student who plays trumpet in the school band. "I try to play golf as much as I can, but you have to have a balance -- go to school, do my homework, do other things."

"We've always taught Liz and her brother that family comes first, then school, then sports," said Anne Janangelo, Liz's mother. "She's very self-motivated and very competitive, and as long as she likes something, we support her completely. But we also try to keep things a slow pace and in perspective...She's pretty normal. She's got a messy room, just like most kids."

Said John Janangelo: "She's always been very driven, but she always does only what she wants to do. We don't force anything on her and don't want her traveling all over the place."

Crowe, Rockledge's golf pro, doesn't foresee problems. "Whatever she's been involved with, she's stepped to the plate and gone for it," he said. "I honestly don't think she'll understand what she did in the State Amateur for a while. I think this will open a lot of doors for her in golf."

Bruce Berlet is a staff writer for the Hartford Courant.

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