SAN DIEGO — Laurette Maritz has a good chance to become the first four-time All-American in the history of women's collegiate golf.
Maritz, 23, a South African who is a senior at United States International University, won the first collegiate tournament she entered and has won 11 since. Ranked ninth in the country among women collegiate players, she won two weeks ago at the Patty Sheehan Golf Invitational at Monterey.
Not only that, Maritz is nice. She helps people, and she recognizes those who have helped her. She teaches Sunday school.
"Everybody is amazed at the way this young lady handles herself," said Laura Day, the former USIU coach who recruited Maritz in 1983 and remains one of her closest friends. "She's so trusting, and she seems to get along with everybody."
In fact, sometimes she seems too trusting.
"The way I see it, that could be her only problem," Day said. "She's so vulnerable and so naive sometimes."
Maritz, who grew up in Johannesburg, has a casual attitude about South Africa, as if it's like any other place. Her father, Johnny, played golf in his leisure time and started Laurette playing when she was 11.
In those days, the clubs were bigger than she was. She has grown a little since then, and now the clubs are almost as big. She stands 5-feet 4-inches.
"You look at her and you think, 'No way this lady can be an All-American golfer; no way she can be an athlete.' But she's tremendous," said Gordon Severson, her coach at USIU. "She can hit the ball a long way, and she simply does not make many mistakes out on the golf course."
Maritz became so involved in golf that she quit high school after the 11th grade. She was playing on a national team from South Africa, winning tournaments in Europe, and she was thinking about turning pro.
In 1983, South African Sally Little, who plays on the Ladies Professional Golf Assn. tour, came to Johannesburg to speak at a luncheon for some of the country's top athletes.
Maritz was excited by the sight of one of her childhood heroes.
"I went up to her after she spoke and asked her about what I had to do to be a good pro," Maritz said.
Little told her to go to college and get a good education.
"That got me thinking," Maritz said.
During the summer of 1983, Salvo Codron, an assistant soccer coach at USIU, was in South Africa recruiting for the Gulls.
He read an article in a newspaper about Maritz and approached her about coming to USIU to play golf. Maritz liked the idea and sent a portfolio to Day.
But first, Day had to convince Maritz's parents to let her come to the United States. Then she had to send Maritz a Scholastic Aptitude Test.
"She passed that and I was able to get her into school," Day said.
Once at USIU, Maritz grew homesick. Three times she threatened to quit school and return home, but Day convinced her to stay.
"Her parents were calling me and asking me what we were doing to make her feel so bad," Day said. "They were wondering if she was getting a blanket to sleep under. That's still a joke with us now, and I'm thinking about giving her a blanket for graduation."
Maritz will graduate in June. She is as proud of that as anything she has done on the golf course.
"To say that I did that is one of my biggest thrills," Maritz said. "It hasn't always been easy for me."
In ranking what's important in her life, Maritz puts her family first, just ahead of her religion. Golf comes third.
She's a Mormon and says she belonged to the only Mormon church in South Africa. She goes to church every week to teach Sunday school. She lives with a Mormon family in Mira Mesa and spends time taking care of the couple's three young daughters. She avoids playing golf on Sundays, unless it's absolutely necessary.
"If you have to play, you have to," Maritz said. "But I won't just go out and hit on a Sunday."
Maritz will try to qualify for her LPGA tour card in October. If she accomplishes that, she'll be on her own on the tour.
"I'm not sure she's aware of just how tough it will be out in the real world," Day said. "She'll have to make all of her travel plans and arrange everything herself. I'm confident she'll be able to do it, but it's not going to be easy."
Last April, Maritz competed in her only LPGA tour event at Rancho Bernardo. She was one of two amateurs to qualify, and she was nervous.
"I didn't want to step on anybody's toes," Maritz said after shooting a first-round 77.
She shot a 73 in the second round and just missed the cut.
"It was a good experience," Maritz said. "Just being out there gave me a good idea of what it's going to be like. I don't worry about what it's going to be like for me on the tour. I'm sure I'll just take each tournament as it comes."
Maritz is ranked No. 9 among college players in the nation, but that was before her victory at Monterey. She will probably move up in the rankings. To become an All-American again, she will have to be one of eight players chosen by collegiate golf coaches or win the NCAA golf tournament.