Prep Golf: Yatawara signs with East Carolina
SALISBURY — Framed by a pair of individual state championship plaques and lots of purple and gold, Salisbury High’s Grace Yatawara signed with East Carolina’s golf program on Friday.
“She’s earned a full ride,” Warrior Golf Club pro Brian Lee said. “Nothing ever was given to her. She’s got talent, but she’s also got one of the best work ethics I’ve ever seen.”
Yatawara was recruited by a host of schools, and recruiting interest intensified after she won the North Carolina Junior Girls Championship in June, 2014, a match-play event that tested her nerves and stamina as much as her skill. She clinched that title on her 106th hole of the week and walked all of them.
Yatawara said she seriously looked at four or five universities, but East Carolina has been at the top of her list a long time. East Carolina was the first school that was intrigued with her potential. She committed to the Pirates verbally during the 2014 1A/2A State Championships.
“East’s Carolina’s coach (Kevin Williams) has always stuck with me and he’s been following me and supporting me in tournaments since I was in the eighth grade,” Yatawara said. “I have family in Washington, N.C., just 30 minutes away from ECU. The other thing is that East Carolina has such a wide range of majors. I’m not sure what my major will be yet, but I’ll have a lot of options.”
She’s leaning toward engineering, but she’ll be good at whatever she chooses. She’s as solid in AP classes as she is with a 9-iron. Salisbury has some exceptional students. Yatawara ranks third in the senior class.
She’s ranked first in golf at Salisbury — and a lot of other places — for two years. She won back-to-back county, conference, 1A/2A Central Regional and 1A/2A State Championships. All eight of those titles mean a great deal to her.
“I’m proud of my career,” Yatawara said. “I’m thankful for the support I’ve gotten from my my family, my school and my community. They’ve made it possible.”
It’s likely that Yatawara experienced so much success individually because she kept team goals first. She was part of three state championship teams and led the Hornets to a fifth-place finish as a senior.
“She’s a really good friend and she’s always been a good teammate,” Salisbury senior Caroline Parrott said. “She taught me a lot.”
Yatawara’s story starts in Sri Lanka, an island nation south of India. Grace’s father, Chanaka, traveled from Sri Lanka to the United States for education. In a freshman chemistry class at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., he met Gayle, his future wife and a future physician.
Grace was born in Norfolk, not long before the Yatawaras moved to Salisbury in 1998.
The arrival of the Yatawaras would make a huge impact on Salisbury golf. Salisbury has been the best 2A team in the state 10 of the last 14 years, and they’ve been a big part of it. Grace’s older sister, Lily, was outstanding for the Hornets. When Lily moved on to Appalachian State, Grace was waiting on deck.
“My father got us started in golf when Lily was 14 and I was 10,” Grace said. “It started out as sister time.”
Both girls showed ability. More important, they showed a desire to put in practice hours to get better. A lot of folks helped them improve along the way.
“A lot of people helped Grace grow into a great student and a great athlete, and they came here today to see her sign,” said Dale Snyder, Salisbury’s AD and former golf coach. “We’ve had so many great golfers at Salisbury. I’m not going to say one of them is the best, but absolutely, Grace is right up there.”
Yatawara has teamed with Allison Dupree Adams to win five straight Labor Day Four-Ball Tournament women’s titles at the Country Club of Salisbury.
Yatawara’s first individual state title as a junior was a bittersweet experience. It came down to Yatawara and her teammate, Isabella Rusher, a two-time individual state champ and now a freshman golfer at Richmond. Yatawara made four birdies in the first round to grab a four-shot lead. Then she held off a final-day charge by Rusher at Foxfire Golf and Resort.
Yatawara’s second state title came last month at Longleaf Golf and Country Club in Southern Pines and in much different circumstances. After an opening-round 81 that included two double bogeys, Yatawara was five shots back on the leaderboard and had to mount a Day 2 comeback.
Taking it one shot at a time, she did it, closing her round with three pars in difficult weather and forcing a playoff with a magnificent chip shot, followed by a clutch sidehill putt. Then she made it back-to-back state titles with a par on the first playoff hole. She shot 77 on a cold, rainy day when no one else in the tournament broke 80.
“Getting a Division I golf scholarship is a rare thing,” Snyder said. “But Grace is one of the special ones.”
Three girls signed with East Carolina, including Dorothea Forbrigd, a member of the Norwegian national team, and Lee County’s Siranon Shoomee, a two-time 3A state champion. Shoomee, who was born in Thailand, is the girl Yatawara beat in the finals of the North Carolina Junior Girls Championship.
Now they’ll be on the same team.
ECU’s Williams announced the signings and raved about Yatawara.
“She has a lot of club-head speed, which is huge in our sport,” he said. “In addition to having a powerful swing, her attitude on and off the course stood out in the recruiting process. Grace has a tremendous amount of potential, and we are excited about the impact she’ll make in our program.”
While the future is bright, Yatawara stays connected with her roots. She and her sister traveled to Sri Lanka last Christmas, visited grandparents and found their way on to a golf course where they played with rented clubs.
It’s the offseason now, but her golf clubs are rarely out of Yatawara’s reach.
“We get out of school at 3:30 and it’s getting dark at 5, but I still try to practice,” Yatawara said. “I have to keep practicing all the time. I don’t want to lose it.”