Alabama native surges into fall with momentum for Rutgers
Alabama and Auburn — Roll Tide and War Eagle.
The two universities are bound together in one of the fiercest rivalries not only in college athletics, but in all of sports. When most people think about the state of Alabama, the names of those two schools immediately come to mind.
On the Banks, when the word Alabama is spoken, another entity materializes inside the heads of Rutgers fans, specifically golf aficionados. This thought is of a student-athlete who prides herself on playing to the best of her ability every time she steps foot on the golf course.
She is Alabama’s own Tatum Jackson.
Jackson is a sophomore on the Rutgers women’s golf team, and for those wondering, she is an Auburn supporter because her sister attended the University. The Mountain Brook, Alabama, native has been one of the main driving forces for the Scarlet Knights throughout her young collegiate golfing career.
As a child, Jackson enjoyed playing both golf and tennis, but ultimately chose to stick with the clubs instead of the racket.
“My dad actually played tennis in college,” Jackson said. “So he wanted my siblings and I to pick a sport that is more lifelong versus something like basketball where you’re not really gonna continue that past a certain point. ... I played both golf and tennis but I liked golf better. I was about 12 (years old) when I started playing.”
Jackson was a standout golfer at Mountain Brook High School. In fact, she began playing for the Spartans' varsity golf team before she was a high school student. Jackson began competing for the varsity team in the seventh grade. In her eighth-grade year, Jackson took over as the No. 1 golfer for the Spartans.
Jackson outplayed the vast majority of Alabama’s high school golfers as an eighth-grade student.
“High school golf was really different,” Jackson said. “Just pressure wise because it’s not as much pressure as it is in college situation where everyone is at the same level. You know, there’s a lot of people in high school golf who aren’t serious about it. But it does prepare you to be a part of a team where you have people depending on you and you don’t want to let your teammates down.”
Jackson was ranked the No. 1 player in the Yellowhammer State in her junior and senior seasons and led Mountain Brook to a three-peat of state championships in 2011, 2012 and 2013. At one point in 2014, Jackson was rated as the No. 62 high school golfer in the country in the Golfweek national rankings.
She was also named player of the year by Birmingham News Metro in 2012 and 2013. To put into perspective how good Jackson was as a Spartan, in 2013, she competed in seven events for her school and won five of them.
When the time came to decide where she would continue her golfing career in college, Rutgers stood out from among the rest in Jackson’s mind.
“I think Rutgers provides its students-athletes the most opportunities to succeed both academically and athletically,” Jackson said. “Being close to (New York City), there’s so many career opportunities here and then being in the Big Ten conference, you get to compete at the highest level.”
In her freshman season, Jackson played in all 12 tournaments for the Knights and finished in the top 20 in three events last fall. At the Big Ten Championships this past spring as a freshman, she hit a 73 during the event for a personal best score.
Last weekend, Jackson finished tied for 27th at the Princeton Invitational with a 162 individual score. She had an 80 in the first round, followed by an 82 in the second round to help guide Rutgers to a fourth-place finish.
Earlier this fall, Jackson shot a 229 at the Diane Thomasen Invitational to secure a tie for 18th place. Her scorecard greatly assisted her team in capturing second place at the event.
Despite all of her success, Jackson believes she struggled at times on the course.
“Honestly, I struggled last year,” she said. “But the frustration and disappointment of how I did last spring really motivated me over the summer and that’s, I guess, a big reason why I’ve been playing better this year is because I struggled last year.”
To overcome the hardships she endured last year, Jackson worked on her game throughout this past summer.
“Honestly, I just played golf all summer,” Jackson said. “I worked on my game. I played actually on the golf course and got a lot more comfortable and built my confidence up a lot. By shooting good scores all summer, I told myself that I could do it and just being more comfortable on the golf course has really helped me this season.”
Head coach Kari Williams said, Jackson, like most golfers, is too critical of herself despite her promising play.
“She actually played very well at Big Ten (Championships),” Williams said. “Golfers are always more critical of themselves than they need to be. So her saying that she struggled last year, she could’ve played better but she had an okay freshman year. I think that when you come from being the number two player in Alabama and then you come up and you get into college golf, no matter where you go, you find out … this is a whole different ball game, especially coming up to Rutgers and playing in the Big Ten.”
Jackson is very supportive of her fellow Knights on the course. Senior Christina Paulsen finds Jackson’s encouragement very helpful.
“She’s a great teammate,” Paulsen said. “She supports me actually a lot on the golf course. We play practice rounds together and we’re both like, 'Okay, we’re gonna pick a line off the tee, we’re gonna support each other and we’re just gonna hit it every time.'”
Mountain Brook is home for Jackson. And because of the long distance from her hometown to Rutgers, she doesn’t get to see her loved ones often.
But her Rutgers family makes this University feel more like home for her.
“Mostly just my family,” Jackson said on what she misses about being home. “It’s always good to go home and see them and it is hard being away from them, but here we basically have a family with our team and coach and everything, so it still feels like home here.”
For updates on the Rutgers women’s golf team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.