Legendary golfer Bobby Jones once posited that competitive golf is played on a five-inch course—the space between your ears.
While traversing fairways, water hazards, and the sharp dogleg left, often the most formidable opponent is oneself. If you concern yourself with another’s game, you distract yourself from your own efforts.
A youthful MSUM golf team grappled with this and more during the 2018 fall campaign.
The Dragons wrapped up their fall season with a victory in a single round dual against Minnesota Crookston on Sept. 5 in Mapleton, North Dakota. It was an excellent way to close out an otherwise-disappointing season on the scoreboard. The Dragons failed to finish above second-to-last in the five tournaments they participated in during the fall.
Despite the absence of palpable success in the form of trophies or medals, Coach Chelsey McGinnis counted the season as a step forward, citing significant development in her young athletes’ ability to cope with adversity. In each tournament, the Dragons improved on their team score in the second round.
“I saw freshmen bounce back after an extremely tough battle in a first round,” McGinnis said. “The mental toughness gained after each tournament made me proud.”
Without a rostered senior, Coach McGinnis looked to sophomore Jill Safranski to provide leadership, naming her team captain alongside junior Kylie Bergh.
“I have always had younger athletes with the ability to naturally find that leadership role. Jill and Kylie are perfect examples of that,” Coach McGinnis said.
Safranski, 20, played high school golf at Lincoln High School in Thief River Falls, Minnesota. She saw her average round score drop nearly two strokes from her freshman year (95.1 to 93.3), finishing second on the team.
Safranksi believes it takes time for athletes to acclimate to the rigors of college golf.
“The length and difficulty of the courses is the biggest difference,” Safranski said regarding the transition from high school to college golf. “The hardest difference is the level of competition. You have to realize your scores are not going to drop overnight.”
The challenge proposed by such a green roster excited Coach McGinnis. She mentioned optimism and patience as critical components to properly tutor her athletes.
McGinnis is in the midst of her eighth season as the head coach of the Dragons. A former anchor of the golf team during her stay as a student at MSUM, McGinnis acknowledged the dichotomy within college golf between the team and the individual. She believes that in such an individual sport, it’s important to communicate with her athletes and give them the needed space and flexibility to focus on their own improvements during practices.
Safranski believes that the support system admitted through the team is crucial to success as a college golfer.
“When we see each other [on the course], we always check on each other. It could be something as simple as thumbs up or a thumbs down. When a teammate needs a boost, you run over and give them a big hug,” Safranksi said. “It’s an individual sport, but at the end of the day, it takes all of us to get a better team score.”
Due to the necessity for proper weather conditions, college golf is uniquely split into two separate fall and spring seasons. Coach McGinnis believes the promise and growth displayed during the fall will translate into a big spring for the Dragons.
The team expects to return every member and add another golfer before April hits. With strong initial showings from freshmen Dani Dokken and Olivia Koskela, who manufactured the team’s lowest average individual score per round on the season, McGinnis is ready to help her golfers improve through the winter and into the spring.
Safranski is eager to get back in the swing of things.
“This winter we will be continuing to work on our game. I’m looking forward to seeing the results this spring. Our team is so close, so returning the roster is huge on keeping the same team dynamic.”