This past week was a milestone in the lives of many young golfers all over the world. If you follow any junior golf tour or organization, I am sure you saw the flood of pictures as junior golfers set behind the table, with their families and coaches surrounding them, displaying their future university mascot and colors, as they signed their National Letter of Intent to play college golf. These players have worked countless hours to improve their games, stayed up late into the night to study and spent their weekends and summers traveling to junior golf tournaments. They may be just signing a piece of paper, but what lies ahead for these future college athletes will teach them so much about themselves, about life and about being successful in the real world.
All college athletes have a very rigorous schedule to balance, but with golf being a two-season sport in college, it is one of the toughest schedules to manage. I missed part of freshman orientation and the first 2 days of class to travel to Oregon for our first event of the year. I was behind before I could even get started. As a college golfer, most importantly, you learn time management and discipline.
These are two skills many incoming freshmen can struggle to grasp, but as time moves along they won’t have a choice if they want to keep up with their grades and the demands of the golf program. While other students get all afternoon and evening, plus weekends, to do homework and enjoy college life, college golfers aren’t allowed that flexibility. With morning workouts before the sun comes up, afternoon practice till the sun goes down, plus weekend qualifying or tournaments, that leaves little time to eat, sleep and study. College golfers learn how to prioritize and maximize their time, focus on the task at hand and juggle a lot of responsibilities at once. As we are all aware, these are all skills necessary for successfully tackling this thing called life.
Golf, like all sports, teaches you how to handle failure, disappointment and the ups and downs that life can throw at you. For anybody who watched the 2015 NCAA Championship match between Baylor and Stanford, you saw Baylor’s Hayley Davis devastated as she missed a short putt to continue the final match against Stanford’s Mariah Stackhouse, thus putting the NCAA Championship trophy in Stanford’s hands. Hayley told Ryan Herrington from GolfDigest, “They gave me the chance to win it for them and I wasn’t able to make it happen.”
Moments like Hayley faced can separate the strong from the weak, the determined from the defeated and the resilient from the fragile. How you rise from tough losses and days where everything seems to go wrong is what makes you a much better person and a more valuable future employee or successful business owner. When you are a college golfer, you have teammates and coaches that count on you to be able to pick yourself up, put it behind you and move on with even more determination and desire to do better.
Because golf is still much of an individual sport in college, you learn how to compete among your own teammates for qualifying spots but then support and cheer them on at tournaments. This is so important for real world scenarios where many times you compete against co-workers for promotions, but at the end of the day you must show your support and continue to be a team player in the office.
If you want to improve your game in college you learn how to be coachable and respect when others are pushing you to be your best, even when you want to quit the 6 am workout that is kicking your butt or you are the last one still working on a drill while everyone else has already gone home for the day. These challenges are the ones that prove to yourself that you can push past the times where you might want to give up in order to become stronger both physically and mentally.
Golf is a unique and diverse sport, many times you may play in a group with competitors who don’t speak much English, or you may end up on a college team with several international players that are very different from what you are accustomed to. College golf teams are small and tight knit, you must learn how to accept and get along with others who have different backgrounds than yourself. I came from a small town in South Carolina, so playing collegiate and professional golf really opened my eyes to other cultures, religions, races and backgrounds. While sometimes tough to do, you learn how to appreciate the differences in others and find ways that they can contribute to your own growth as a golfer and individual.
Playing college golf is an experience that requires an immense amount of time, dedication, and sacrifice but the skills and traits you acquire as a student-athlete are qualities you don’t learn in the classroom. The experience you gain, the people you meet and the skills you learn will forever change how you look at yourself and your future. For those who have plans to play college golf know that it is going to be a tough road but one that can teach you more about yourself and life than you can even begin to imagine at this stage in your life.
Article originally written for www.womensgolf.com