Pressure’s off with tight focus, hot dog helpings

Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Heritage Hills senior Cody Van Winkle is set to compete in the state finals for the first time Tuesday at Franklin. The 11th-ranked Patriots and eighth-ranked Jasper share one thing in common, with players on both squads attempting to sharpen their focus while on the course.

Herald Sports Writer

Marc Schum put it in its simplest terms: Imagine focusing on one task for upward of four straight hours.

Now imagine doing it as a teenager.

Staying mentally sharp, even more than delivering physically, is perhaps the most difficult challenge golf teams face each time they step onto a course, and Schum’s 11th-ranked Heritage Hills squad is no exception. And now, as the Patriots and No. 8 Jasper prepare for Tuesday’s state finals at The Legends of Indiana Golf Club in Franklin, the task is amplified.

“That’s the tough part about it,” Schum said. “It’s hard enough for professional golfers to do it, much less teenagers. These guys are pretty focused. ... You have to somehow keep your emotions under control between your shots and focus right when it’s time for your shot, although you’ve still got preparation before the shot. It’s just a grind.”


Perhaps more than many other sports, golf requires an abundance of thought. Each shot warrants its own decision-making process, from ball location and club selection to wind conditions and how the course is playing on any given day.

Is the green fast or slow, and how is it sloping? How can I minimize penalties?

Then there’s the task of always looking ahead and not dwelling on anything that’s come before.

“The whole game is focusing one shot at a time and you can’t be thinking about, ‘Oh, I’m worried about my tee shot on nine or my tee shot on 12,’” Jasper junior Dru Hein said. “You have to stay in the moment and pretty much be in your own little world the entire time you’re playing.”


That’s often easier said than done, especially now with the stakes higher than ever. As the competition and courses have grown tougher each week, so too has the challenge of staying even-keeled on the course.

Staying in your own world is the ideal, but not often the most realistic scenario.
“There’s a lot going on. You can see what other players are doing. It’s the toughest mental thing I’ve ever done (playing at this level) and it can get to you pretty fast,” Patriot senior Travis Waninger said. “It’s completely different because there’s so much going on. You see all kinds of good shots going down and it’s tough not to put the pressure on yourself.”

“You’ve really just got to play your own game and whatever happens, happens,” senior teammate Cody Van Winkle said. “You’re always kind of thinking about it in the back of your mind. But you try and focus on yourself and not anybody else.”

Schum — whose team is one of two making its first appearance in the 21-team state finals field — addresses that pressure every day, from reminders on not trying to make up shots on a bad round to holding target drills and competitions in practice that reinforce the need to focus.

Other approaches are more unconventional.

Jasper senior Michael Bies is a self-admitted “head case.” For whatever reason, Bies said, his rounds tend to fall apart on the last five holes.

So that’s when Jasper coach Steve Milligan makes Bies eat. And it doesn’t really matter what it is. Toward the end of the Wildcat Invitational on May 5, Milligan met Bies outside the clubhouse at Sultan’s Run Golf Course with a hot dog.

“It helps me focus on something else rather than think about my score,” Bies said.

Other than that, tricks don’t really help so much. It’s just a learned discipline.

“You have to do it,” Bies said.

Still, it’s something Milligan said he rarely has to worry about, and with good reason. In seven 18-hole tournaments this season, the Wildcats have won four and haven’t finished any lower than first since the beginning of May. In that stretch, they won their fifth straight sectional and first regional title since 2008.

“I feel like this group is all focused in their game going into it,” Milligan said. “They’re all focused into going into the day. They’ve got to be focused that morning, going to the course.”

Hein said it helps to think of it as “you versus the golf course,” rather than another highly touted team. It helps to know the course, too, and both Jasper and Heritage Hills golfers expressed some level of comfort with The Legends, already having either competed or practiced there. And with the two-day structure of the state meet, in which the top nine teams from Tuesday advance to Wednesday’s final round, it’s helpful to break things up by day and not look ahead too much — even if their goals include more than just an appearance at the most important match of the year.

“I just tell them to go out and play within themselves,” said Milligan, whose team is playing at state for the third straight year. “They’ve got to play within themselves and that’s what it takes. If they go play within themselves, that will make them play their best.”

Contact Joanne Norell at



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