Area golfers travel different paths to the course

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Jasper's Haley Schroeder tees off during a match at Buffalo Trace golf course in Jasper on Wednesday against Gibson Southern. Golf runs in the family for Schroeder and she says it's what got her into the sport but what's helped her stay so involved in it is that it's become sort of a personal sanctuary for herself.

By JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

One of the cool things about sports, besides the obvious highlights and spectacle that comes with competition, is how people from all walks of life and backgrounds can encounter a sport and be unified by the lessons they pick up from playing. 

This can be seen in two young ladies who this fall have played key roles for their respective golf teams — Haley Schroeder and Selena Barrientos.

Schroeder, a senior and the No. 1 golfer for the Jasper Wildcats, comes from a family with a golf history. Her two older sisters play golf, and she says that as far back as she can remember, she’s always had a club in her hand. 

She was drawn to it by the family aspect, as it is one of the things she and her family are able to do together, and it’s an activity they plan on keeping up for the rest of their lives. But Schroeder also enjoys the sport personally as a kind of personal sanctuary for herself.

“It’s very relaxing,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t have to be into it at a competition level, and you can just have fun with it. But you could get into competition and try to shoot your best. It’s always a game of trying to improve upon yourself.”

And it is there where she rests her mind and focus whenever she takes to the golf course — the constant pursuit of self improvement and working on a better shot.

Jasper coach Jan Tellstrom said that in terms of her mechanics and other technical details, there’s not much more he has to impart on Schroeder in golf (he credits her father, Terry, with laying that foundation for her early) But as remarkable as that may be, he believes the mental focus she puts into her play is the most impressive part of her game.

Jasper's Haley Schroeder adorns her golf club bag with a personalized bow during a match at Buffalo Trace golf course in Jasper on Wednesday. Schroeder has been the Wildcats No. 1 golfer this season and has performed well as she's been the match medalist at four of their past five matches.

“She’s methodical about how she approaches each and every shot,” Tellstrom said. “It’s an inner strength on her part. She can pull together when she’s not doing well. I’m more proud of her for that than when she is striking it perfectly.”

That mental toughness is a deliberate effort for Schroeder. When she first started with the golf team, it was easy for her to succumb to the frustrations of navigating a course or salvaging a bad shot. But as she has pursued improvement, she has grown in patience and focus.

“Mentally, I’ve definitely improved,” she said. “I used to get mad, as most freshmen do when they’re on the golf course and take a bad shot. Now that I’m a senior, I relax more. I don’t get so hard on myself.”

It is the same lesson Heritage Hills junior Selena Barrientos is experiencing. 

The junior is in her second season playing golf for Heritage Hills. She branched out on her own path when she chose to pick up the game, but she doesn’t let that keep her from having fun as she grows in the sport.

“After my first season, I was pretty excited. We didn’t do too good, but we were learning,” she said. “I really wanted to do it again for a second year to improve on how I play.”

Heritage Hills golf coach Dave Jochim said that because everyone on the team is so new and close together, he doesn’t have a true No. 1 golfer. However, Barrientos has been a player who has demonstrated the most consistency in her game. She is always asking her coach questions in pursuit of feedback for how she can improve.

But her true strength is in her ability to stick with it even when things aren’t going her way. She admits that her scores haven’t been the best this season, but she was encouraged by the round where she shot a 57, and tries to use that as motivation to keep going and make progress.

“I’m focused right now on trying to lower my score,” she said. “[I’ve spent] a lot of time with coach (Jochim) asking him questions about what I’m doing wrong and what I can do to improve.”

Bad shots can throw off even the most experienced golfers, and it’s easy for players to beat themselves up over missing a shot or putting the ball in a hazard.

But Barrientos believes that continuing to think positive in spite of going through the rough is the key to moving forward on the course.

Barrientos

“Frustration does happen,” she said. “When you get a bad hit, you get upset. But you just think ‘I’m going to make this hit better than the last one.’ That’s how you continue on to every hole.”

And that is the key both girls have picked up as they have played golf. 

It won’t always go your way, and some days will be better than others. But a person has to maintain a strong, positive attitude in order to keep their mind clear and focused. It’s a lesson that applies not only on the links, but to  the bigger picture of life past the 18th hole.

“Sometimes it’s not about hitting the perfect shot, it’s about hitting a ‘good enough’ shot,” Schroeder said. “You can’t control it, the only thing you can control is yourself, how it makes you feel, and how you want to react to the situation.”

“Don’t give up. Continue on even if you do bad,” Barrientos added. “Know that you’ll do even better as you go.”




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