This blog is a bit of a special one because I am celebrating my 34th birthday today. While 34 isn’t really a big milestone birthday it did make me stop and think back to what I was doing halfway through my life when I was 17 years old. Many of the girls I work with are in that 13-18 year range and I catch myself saying to them over and over, “if I only knew then what I know now”. I know many of the girls get tired of hearing that, as I did at that age, but it will never stop me from trying to impart a little wisdom on the young girls as they navigate their way through high school and into college. That span of years is the most influential time of a girl’s life so I thought I would think back to what I would tell myself when I was that age.
First let me fill you on what was going on during that summer when I turned 17. I turned 17 the summer going into my senior year of high school, I was one of the summer babies who was considered young for my grad year. I knew the summer was going to be a big one in regards to where I may play college golf. I had always dreamed of playing for the women’s golf powerhouse at Furman University. They were a top 25 ranked program and recruited some of the top junior golfers in the country. I believe I was ranked 3rd in the state of SC at the time but I didn’t have the top national level of experience that many girls I was competing against had so I knew my odds were slim at the time. My family didn’t have the ability to send me all of over the country for AJGA and national tournaments so I did what I could to prove myself in the state tournaments and the few national tournaments I was able to qualify for, twice playing in the US Junior Girls (where I did manage to knock Lorena Ochoa out of the first round of match play that summer). And I qualified for the Big I and Optimist but had to choose one, so my mom and I headed out the Houston, TX for the Big I. At the end of the summer, I had my first hole in one at the Beth Daniel Jr Azalea in front of Mic Potter, the Furman coach, and went on to win the tournament. My recruiting story continues from there but I’ll pick it back up in another blog. I just wanted to set the scene for my life during the summer that I turned 17.
There is so much that I look back on and wish I would have known at the time. And as I watch the girls who are that age it makes me realize how important it is for them to learn and understand from someone who has years of experience doing so many of the things they aspire to do. While I could probably create a list of 100 or more, I am narrowing it down to just my top 5 things I would tell my 17 year old self.
YOU ARE AWESOME – Just those words say it all but I will elaborate on a few reasons why. You commit yourself to hours and hours of practice both in the extreme heat and cold. Many times you are spending those hours at the course, all by yourself, while your friends are hanging out by the pool. You carry (or push nowadays) a 30lb+ golf bag around for 5+ miles every time you play 18 holes. You grind out every single putt, even if it’s for a double bogey. You can calculate wind direction, green speed, lie of the ball, elevation, slopes, carry distances, yardages then pick a club and target, all in less than about 30-45 seconds. You travel on weekends and spend most of your summer playing golf tournaments when most kids are relaxing at home. You meet and play golf for 4.5 hours with new girls almost every time you tee it up. You play a sport that most adult men will never figure out how to play no matter how hard they try…. and you can beat most of them too! So let’s face it, YOU ARE AWESOME!
IT’S COOL TO BE A GOLFER – When you are younger, golf isn’t always considered a “cool” sport. Even through college a lot of guys gave us on the golf team a hard time about being golfers. They thought it was easy to carry your bag and hit a golf ball that was just sitting on a tee. It wasn’t really considered an “athletic sport”. Fast forward to these guys now being in the corporate world and they quickly realized how hard the game of golf is and they all came back wanting lessons. So just remember that you are very unique in the fact that you have the ability to play golf, it may not be as high energy, team oriented and exciting to watch as other sports but it is one of the most highly skilled, very technical and mentally tough sports anybody will ever play.
GOLF IS WHAT YOU DO – This may not be as applicable to all girls who play junior golf but the more competitive you become the more this will apply. It is very difficult not to put your self worth and identity into how good of a golfer you are and to not let the bad days affect your self-esteem. I know for me, giving up my professional golf career was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. From the time I was 7 or 8, my dream was to play on the LPGA Tour and so much of my life centered around my golf game. I was “the golfer” in my family and in my hometown. So over time it really did become who I was instead of what I did. It was very hard to separate the two. But at the end of the day you have to remember that who you are is not affected by how good or bad of a golfer you are. Yes you are a “golfer” but golf is what you do, it does not define who you are.
GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK – All great athletes are hard on themselves and tend to always expect more no matter how good they play. But remember to cut yourself a break, relax and enjoy the process. You can’t beat yourself up every time you play bad or else you will you forget to love the game and you won’t enjoy competing anymore. It is certainly easy to look back now and say this but good round or bad round, there will be tomorrow and another chance to play better. I can remember times on tour that I would play bad and not want to do any sightseeing or the fun activities the tournament had planned. I just wanted to be grumpy and mad at myself for bogey the last 2 holes or missing the putt on the last hole.Take the time to learn from your mistakes that day, set a plan to improve, then move on and enjoy the rest of your day.
BE GRATEFUL – After working with junior golfers for about 6 years now this would be one of my biggest pieces of advice. This a topic that can open a whole book of advice for junior golfers and how they view things so I will just keep it simple. I hope that as a 17 year old, I was gracious and appreciated the opportunities that I was given to play golf, but I would still tell my 17 year old self that you can never be too grateful. Always take the time to say thank you to anybody that is involved with helping your golf career (instructors, coaches, tournament staff, volunteers and of course your family). You can’t imagine the time and dedication many of these people commit to allow you the chance to play golf. Be willing to give back anyway that you can if you are asked. Always remember that the opportunity can quickly be taken away and that there are a lot of kids in this world that will never have the chance to play the game of golf.
I’m sure I will come back to this topic again before long with more thoughts but I’m going to take my own advice and cut myself a break to enjoy my birthday with family and friends!