CONCORD – Elizabeth Lohbauer had been working her way toward this moment for almost three years, although it came with a little bit of heartbreak along the way.
When she got to Cox Mill High School in 2017, Lohbauer gave a foreshadowing of her ample abilities as a golfer when she won the South Piedmont 3A Conference’s individual girls championship as a ninth-grader.
But when the state tournament rolled around that year, Lohbauer left in a tie for 25th place and an understanding that she still had a long way to go.
The following year, 2018, Lohbauer showed she hadn’t taken any steps back, winning a second SPC individual title and helping the Chargers to back-to-back regional championships.
Again, however, the state tournament failed to go her way, as Lohbauer’s two-day score of 170 was only good enough for 22nd place.
To few people’s surprise, Lohbauer came back this fall and won a third consecutive conference championship, and she was hopeful as she entered the state competition at Foxfire Resort & Golf Club’s Red Fox Course on Monday morning.
This time, however, the experience was much different for the Cox Mill golfer.
Lohbauer opened the first day of play with her best-ever round at the state tournament, a 2-under-par 70. And by the time the second round ended Tuesday evening, she was being crowned as the 3A state champion.
Her mission was complete, especially since Cox Mill had also claimed the state team title at the same time.
Still, when the moment she’d been imagining for years finally became a reality, Lohbauer had trouble believing it.
“The first day, after my round, I was confident, and I was ready for the next day,” she said. “I didn’t know that I was in first place, so the next day, I just had fun and focused on my game – no one else’s.
“And after that, when I found out I won, I was just shocked at my score.”
Lohbauer finished with a 1-under 143 and won the title by four strokes over Eastern Alamance’s Emily Mathews.
Entering the state tournament, Elizabeth’s father, Jim, obviously didn’t know she would win it all. But he had a good feeling.
Jim Lohbauer, also the Cox Mill assistant coach, has been studying his daughter’s game – and helping her improve it -- since she began playing competitively about four years ago.
Although she finished fifth at the 3A West Regional last week, Jim felt like his daughter was in a great mental space as the team traveled to Jackson Springs, North Carolina, for the state competition. It didn’t matter that her previous trips to this stage hadn’t exactly panned out well.
“She’s been incredibly consistent this year,” Jim said. “She’s made steady improvement year after year, and I think she’s worked hard to prepare for this moment and she was due for it.
The team rallied behind her and helped to get her there.
“She works at it year-round. She plays a lot of tournament golf, and it definitely prepared her for this moment.”
Jim couldn’t help but flash a huge smile as he talked about Elizabeth’s journey to being the best 3A golfer in North Carolina Tuesday night.
“What an incredible journey and an incredible season,” he said. “It was gut-wrenching for me (watching), both as a coach and as a dad, but what an incredible performance by her. I couldn’t be more proud of her or this team. It’s an incredible accomplishment.”
The Chargers’ head coach, Moses Smith, could tell from the outset that Lohbauer was at a different level as she began state-tournament play this year. He watched with pride as she fired off three birdies in the first five holes of Round 1 and had a sizzling 2-under 33 on the front nine. Her play was instrumental in the Chargers winning the team title by a remarkable 14 strokes.
Smith believes Lohbauer deserved her individual title, especially because of the way she fought through so much adversity over the years.
“Her freshman year, her score was up, but she worked,” Smith said. “She’s just a fun-loving kid who loves the game, and she works hard. Some days, I would say we wouldn’t have practice, but she would say, ‘Well, I’m going to come in and get some extra work anyway.’ Even if it was only 30 minutes, she always wanted to push herself to get better.”
With a year of high school golf remaining, and another shot at winning the title, how much better can Lohbauer get?
“She’s going to be amazing,” Smith said. “She’s really going to be amazing. The sky’s going to be the limit for her, because she can play.’’