18-year-old Hannah Clark merges physics and golf

Riding the Metro and walking down Independence Avenue with her golf clubs, Hannah Clark is used to getting double-takes and fielding questions from commuters.

"You definitely get some strange looks," Clark said. "They say, 'Oh, going golfing?' I go, 'No, I just carry this around everywhere I go.'?"

The clubs have often become a conversation starter for Clark, 18, as she makes her way from her home in Silver Spring to East Potomac Golf Course.

Three times a week, Clark treks to the historic public course, situated on an island in the Potomac River and overlooked by the Washington Monument. It is here that Clark participates in The First Tee, an after-school program that introduces kids ages seven to 18 to golf and teaches them life lessons through the sport.

Last week Clark, the Washington chapter's lone First Tee Scholar, told members of Congress how her involvement in the program enhanced her life. Her presentation came on April ?16, National Golf Day, when golf-industry leaders promoted the sport, which brings $68 billion to the nation's economy, generates $4 billion in charitable donations and provides two million jobs.

Clark is a shining example of the value of The First Tee, which was established in 1997. Neither of her parents played golf, but she was drawn to the sport after taking an introductory program at a neighborhood recreation center. Clark had played organized sports, but golf best fit her lifestyle, and participating in it through The First Tee complemented her emphasis on academics. Clark, who is homeschooled, will study computer science next year at Howard University.

"I'm used to spending a lot of time studying things, working on things," Clark said. "[Golf] has a very strong mental component."

Last spring, marrying her interests in physics and golf, Clark studied the swings of the top five PGA and LPGA players and discovered some interesting differences.

"I looked at their swing sequence photos, got video of their swings and took pictures of the videos and drew graphs," Clark said. "There was a slight difference in the rotation of the hips. Guys exaggerated that a little bit because their center of gravity is higher than women."

Clark's three younger brothers also participate in The First Tee, guided in D.C. by executive director Clint Sanchez. Alston Clark, 17, anticipates family competitions this summer, saying each of his siblings has a particular strength on the course.

On the occasions when she plays 18 holes, Clark's goal is to break 100. Others in the program, such as Lennard Long of Northwest D.C., have quickly become adept. In just his third year of golf, Long holds a handicap of 3 and plays for the school team at Woodrow Wilson High.

"You see kids who are half your height hitting three times as far as you are," Clark said. "Very early on, you learn it's not just about your skills or your capabilities. You learn it's more about the overarching messages in golf, like persistence and setting goals."