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‘Cerebral’ Natalie Srinivasan solidifies place among Furman greats with Annika Award

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Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, is home to fewer than 3,000 students. Despite its unassuming enrollment, the Paladins pack quite the punch when it comes to women’s golf with a legendary list of alums that includes Betsy King, Beth Daniel and Dottie Pepper.

You can now add Natalie Srinivasan to that lineup.

The soon-to-be graduate, who led all of Division I with three victories this past season, was honored Friday evening with the Annika Award, which is given to the top Division I women’s golfer as voted on by players, coaches and media.

The player-of-the-year award marks the first in Furman’s storied history.

“She’s in their category now,” Furman head coach Jeff Hull said. “In fact, she’s done something that none of them did. It’s an amazing feat.”

In 1976, Furman won the AIAW National Championship behind King, Daniel and Sherri Turner. King went on to win 34 times on the LPGA, including six majors, and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1995. Four years later, Daniel, a two-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champ and 33-time LPGA winner (including one major), joined King in the hall. Turner won three times on the LPGA, including what is now the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 1988.

Following close behind were Cindy Davis, Caroline Peek and Pepper, all three-time All-Americans while at Furman. Pepper went on to record 17 LPGA wins, including two majors.

“You always dream of seeing your name with theirs, and they’ve always set the example for us,” Srinivasan said of her Paladin predecessors. “To have my name now up there with them is pretty surreal.”

The 21-year-old Srinivasan has been fortunate to pick the brains of many of those greats. But if they’ve taught her patience, it was her father, Ajai, who instilled in her the importance of attention to detail.

Ajai Srinivasan came to the U.S. when he was just 16 years old, leaving behind his parents back home in Chennai, India. He later enrolled at Lander University, an NAIA school in Greenwood, South Carolina, where he became a tennis star, leading his team to two national championships and winning the 1987 Arthur Ashe Award.

Now, Ajai works as a surgeon in Spartanburg, about 30 minutes from Furman’s campus.

“He’s always taught me that golf is a game of millimeters,” Natalie said. “I’ve always tried just being really aware of what I’m trying to do and paying attention to the little things.”

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Hull remembers recruiting Srinivasan as a Furman assistant. While she didn’t possess an electrifying skillset, Srinivasan stood out for her methodical approach to the game.

“She’s so cerebral,” Hull said. “She just plays the game smarter than a lot of people.”

After three years of All-SoCon play, Srinivasan took off as a senior. It wasn’t just that she won three times, it was how she won. Her first victory came in the fall at the Glass City Invitational, where she shot 4 under in her final eight holes to beat Florida star Sierra Brooks, who was grouped alongside Srinivasan, by four shots.

“That validated where she was in the collegiate golf world,” Hull said.

The next week Srinivasan took down Wake Forest’s Swing Liu to win Furman’s home event by three shots. Her third triumph, at the Moon Golf Invitational in February, came by four shots.

Arguably, though, Srinivasan’s most impressive showing was her last as a college golfer, a runner-up finish at the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate, which is played on one of the toughest venues and features one of the most star-studded fields of the year.

To no one’s surprise, Srinivasan, Golfstat’s No. 1-ranked player, had a huge target on her back as the postseason drew near. Only it never came. The season was canceled just days after the Darius, and with it the end of Srinivasan’s college career.

She had planned to play a second Augusta National Women’s Amateur, compete for an NCAA title and represent her country for the first time at the Curtis Cup, all in a four-month span. All three events were either canceled or postponed until next year.

The normally unfazed Srinivasan was suddenly the most emotional Hull has ever seen his star player.

“When you’re playing well and you’ve got confidence and you’ve got some things within your reach, it’s hard to take,” Hull said.

Theegala wins Haskins; Annika goes to Srinivasan

Pepperdine's Sahith Theegala and Furman's Natalie Srinivasan won the Haskins and Annika awards, respectively, on Friday.

Despite the heartbreak, Srinivasan never considered taking advantage of the NCAA’s decision to offer seniors an extra year of eligibility. She’ll graduate this month with a Bachelor’s degree in health science and hopes to one day follow in her father’s footsteps by going to med school.

But first, she’ll give professional golf a go. With Symetra Tour status in her back pocket, Srinivasan plans join the pro ranks when the tour resumes later this year.

She may not make the jump as an NCAA champion, but hey, Player of the Year has a nice ring to it, too.

No one can take that away from her.

She’ll be in the Furman record books forever, right alongside Betsy and Beth and Dottie.

“It wouldn’t matter where she was,” Hull said. “She was destined to win an award like this.”