The IX: Golf Thursday with Sarah Kellam, February 4, 2021
Inside the life of a collegiate golfer — Interview with Julie Williams — Must-click women's golf links
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College golf excellence
Disclaimer: I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who played college golf at a Division I mid-major university. I understand that things are different at bigger schools, in different divisions, and for different sports and am in no way discrediting the time and energy that any college sport requires, but I wanted to highlight golf in particular because I have experience with it.
For most golfers and fans of the game, February represents a month of malaise, the lackluster 28 days between winter and the first glimmer of spring, the time of the year you spend watching your favorite players compete in fabulous locations and dreaming of balmy summer days spent on the course.
Or, if you’re lucky, the temperature rarely drops below fifty degrees and the only winter blues you’re left to deal with are dormant Bermuda and mid-morning tee time rates going up as the snowbirds flock south.
But, if you play collegiate golf, February typically means the spring season is underway, with both practice and workouts becoming more frequent and the travel bags being rolled out and dusted off. With all eyes on conference, regional, and national championships, this month in particular marks the start of a grueling 3-4 months for college golfers, a grind that may or may not produce the desired results.
As a former Division I golfer, I can definitively tell you that being a collegiate athlete is no joke. I think some people look at sports outside of football or basketball and think that the load is much lighter because you’re not playing on television or generating income for the university. That’s simply not the truth.
From my experience as a college golfer, in addition to the weekly lifts and workouts that may be required by your coaches, you’re also expected to practice 3-5 times a week at a facility that may or may not be easily accessible from campus. At those practices, you are either walking and playing 9-18 holes, which can take 2-4 hours depending on the day, or grinding it out on the range and putting green for 1-3 hours, again as determined by your coaches.
Plus, it’s really hard to take any sort of time off in golf and be able to consistently play well or maintain your “feels” on the course. That’s why you hear of most professional golfers hitting balls or practicing in some capacity every day.
In the same way, for most collegiate players, practice doesn’t stop when your coach says you’re finished. You work on your game daily, even sourcing and paying for your own instruction to do so.
Competition days are even more strenuous. While most sports have games that last a couple of hours, a round of golf takes, on average, between four and five hours to complete. And the tournaments aren’t a one-day affair either.
Generally, most college events are two days long, sometimes three, and consist of either a 36-hole day followed by an 18-hole day or, if the event is three days, you’ll play three 18-hole rounds. You also have an 18-hole practice round the day before the event that usually takes 4-6 hours depending on the pace of play.
36-hole tournament days can be a special kind of hell depending on the conditions you’re playing in and, in my experience, take around ten or eleven hours to complete. And no, you don’t break in between rounds. You will have about 5 minutes to sign your first scorecard, use the restroom if needed, grab lunch from your coach, and then you trek on to your 19th hole.
So, to add everything up, a college golfer will play around 72 holes over the course of 3-4 days depending on the tournament and will spend anywhere from 21-24 hours playing golf (I’m approximating here). I don’t care who you are, that’s a LOT of golf, especially when you consider a player is also supposed to be keeping up with schoolwork. It’s pretty tough to study on the road when you’re mentally and physically exhausted from playing that day.
Not to mention that even though you’re a member of a team, you’re constantly competing against some of your best friends for five team spots that are available for each tournament and maybe one or two individual spots if you’re lucky. That coupled with the pressure of golf being a solo sport in which you control your own fate can take a mental toll on a player and be incredibly emotionally taxing.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Pursuing college golf was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself and I’m sure all those that have played it or are playing it would agree. You get to travel to amazing places, tee it up at top-notch golf courses, make lifelong friends, and get an education while doing something that you love. Nothing can beat that and I have zero regrets from my time at Northern Kentucky University.
However, I don’t think it’s widely understood how elite collegiate golfers are as both athletes and people and they should be highlighted and recognized just as much as football and basketball players in my opinion. People should pay attention to them at the college level because, just like with the aforementioned, these student athletes will eventually become the professionals that you are rooting for.
So readers, I have a challenge for you. With the LPGA not teeing it up again until later this month, find a women’s college golfer to root for or follow during this break. You can easily keep up with them via athletic department websites or Golfstat.com or even by checking out the work of Golfweek’s Julie Williams. A lot of these women are even playing in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur in April, another great event to watch collegiate players compete at their finest.
Just try to engage with college golf and see the excellence that these young people are consistently putting on display. Because today’s freshman or sophomore standout could be tomorrow’s Stacy Lewis or Gaby Lopez or Mariah Stackhouse. You just never know.
This week in women’s golf
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The LPGA Tour website now has a diversity section highlighting some incredible women that are making an impact on and off the course. (via LPGA.com)
Check out this interview with Tiffany Fitzgerald, founder and CEO of Black Girls Golf on Golf Central! (via GolfChannel.com)
With a new sponsor and a name change, The Amundi Evian Championship’s purse will be increased to $4.5 million in 2021. (via Golfweek)
Amundi has become the title sponsor for The Evian Championship changing the event’s name and increasing it’s purse size. (via LPGA.com)
Sei Young Kim wins her first Golf Writers Association of America Women’s Player of the Year honor. (via LPGA.com)
The 2021 Symetra Tour schedule has been released, featuring 20 events and the highest average purse in Tour history. (via SymetraTour.com)
20 events are on the docket and record purse sizes for Symetra Tour members this season. (via Golfweek)
The first event of the 2021 Symetra Tour season is also a new one, the Carlisle Arizona Women’s Golf Classic. (via SymetraTour.com)
2021 is a Solheim Cup year and, as Ron Sirak writes, every American and European player will have their sights on making the team this season. (via LPGA.com)
Ally Ewing volunteered as an assistant coach for her former college team, Mississippi State, at the UCF Challenge in Orlando and reflects on what being a woman in sports means to her on National Women and Girls in Sports Day. (via LPGA.com)
Angela Stanford is all about getting better and she’s keeping up that attitude heading into the meat of the 2021 season. (via Golfweek)
Beth Ann Nichols catches up with Muni He on golf, her relationship, and even bunnies in this Q&A. (via Golfweek)
Mina Harigae did an Instagram Live Q&A session for the LPGA Tour. Click here to watch it! (via LPGA.com)
2023 has a stellar lineup of courses slated to host the women’s major championships, with Pebble Beach, Baltrusol, and Walton Heath on the docket. (via Golfweek)
The search for a new LPGA Tour commissioner is on. (via LPGA.com)
There will be four editions of a team event sponsored by Aramco in 2021 in conjunction with the Ladies European Tour. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Get to know Ladies European Tour member and 3-time winner Nuria Iturrioz. (via LadiesEuropeanTour.com)
Kent State women’s golf didn’t play fall golf in 2020, but they aren’t letting that hold them back. Plus, they had the cutest team mascot at the UCF Challenge…Sky! (via Golfweek)
COVID-19 has changed the face of golf in more ways than one and the new regulations for testing and attestation put in place by conferences for collegiate golf programs are no different. (via Golfweek)
Virginia women’s golf captures their first title of the season at the UCF Challenge in Orlando. (via Golfweek)
Women’s golf participation in the United Kingdom seems to be on the rise in spite of the COVID-19 pandemic. (via sportsgazette.co.uk)
Tweet of the Week
Five at the IX: Julie Williams, Golfweek writer
How did you become involved with golf? How and when did you begin covering the sport for Golfweek?
I grew up in a very small town, with limited options for entertainment. My dad was a good player and started taking my older sister and me to the golf course at an early age (he would lure us there with the promise of a soda and/or an ice cream bar, a trick I would recommend to all aspiring golf dads!). I grew to love it, managed to get a college golf scholarship and lucked into a Golfweek internship after graduating in 2009. I was fortunate that turned into a job. Amateur and college golf was a “beginner’s” beat, but I always connected with that part of the game much more than professional golf, so I kept covering it.
What has been your most gratifying moment as a golf writer? Do you have a favorite story you’ve told or event you’ve gotten to cover?
I don’t think this feeling is unique to golf writers, but when you pop into someone’s life just for the purpose of telling their story, you really have a lot to learn in a short amount of time. That’s a big responsibility – particularly big depending on the nature of the story. It makes me proud to have someone say, “You captured me better than anyone else has,” which has happened a handful of times in my career.
Hands-down my favorite event I’ve ever covered was the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur in 2019. Never have I seen women’s golf and amateur golf, my two loves, so celebrated!
Can it be challenging covering amateur and collegiate golf? How so? How do you engage your readers that may not be as well-versed in this facet of the game?
The ways in which it is challenging ultimately become benefits. I’m often learning about players as I go along. I’m the first person digging up the details so there is no existing stat sheet and nothing to Google. A lot of times, I’m the first person to tell their story, and then they travel on up to professional golf and I hope that my story helps introduce that player to viewers when he or she finds success on a bigger scale.
Consequently, I sometimes feel like I have a back-log of stories in my notebook. Not enough time to tell them all! I have to remind myself frequently that not everyone knows the intricacies of college golf or the important events (and their history) in amateur and even junior golf. So I try not to gloss over those details, though it’s hard for me to see sometimes!
Do you think the golf media landscape is changing to become more inclusive? Why or what not?
That’s a tough one. I don’t often find myself reporting alongside writers from other outlets unless I am at a major event. I will say that standing in the scrum at the end of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur two years ago, I was completely surrounded by female reporters and columnists. That was a welcome first.
According to your Instagram bio, in addition to writing, you are also a high school girls’ golf coach. What has that experience been like for you? How rewarding is it to watch your players succeed both on the course and off?
I have been coaching high school girls golf for four years. Those few months in the fall are the highlight of my year. The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized how many opportunities golf has brought me. Coaching is my way of paying that forward.
I try to prepare my girls just to be comfortable in golf and on the golf course, so we talk a lot about rules, etiquette, honesty and just how you act on a golf course. I want them to be lifelong golfers, and this year when we wrote down goals, I had several tell me they wanted to play college golf. That was huge for me to realize that they see themselves playing golf at the next level. I enjoy seeing golf from a beginner’s perspective and it is so exciting watching the girls hit the milestones they set for themselves, like getting a certain score or hitting a certain shot. I love it when a player enjoys the experience so much that the next season, she brings a friend or two out to join the team, too. Coaching golf is something I never really pictured myself doing but now I can’t imagine ever giving it up!