The women’s golf team practices six days a week; three are spent playing nine or 18 holes and the other three consist of skills practice.
But coach Alexis Mihelich said practice should mostly teach the team how to play golf mentally.
“What defines the top three teams to the bottom three is all separated by who is mentally stronger,” she said.
In her second year at the helm, Mihelich said one of her roles is to help prepare her athletes so they can be mentally tough during a match, which includes balancing both positive and negative emotions.
Three seniors graduated last year, including all-conference selections Alisha Matthews and Margaret Gilley, who is now the team’s student assistant coach. To replace those who left the team, three freshmen and two transfers from John A. Logan were added to the roster.
Senior co-captains Amber Phillips and Shaina Rennegarbe are returning this year, as well as juniors Ashleigh Rushing and Cassie Rushing.
Cassie Rushing led the team in stroke average last year with 76.4 and placed in the top five in all five spring tournaments. During the summer she said she played in five tournaments and practiced every day to prepare for the season. She said the team’s goal is to win conference.
Last year the Salukis won four tournaments, the most in a season for SIU since 1983.
With a strong core of athletes, Mihelich said the team can be very competitive if they can all play well on the same day.
“Golf is a really individualized sport, so you don’t necessarily have to have the same team chemistry to be successful like team sports.” she said. “Some players can just stick to themselves, but with this squad in particular, everyone is closer so I think that really helps.”
While her sport is not as physical as most other team sports, Cassie Rushing said she thinks golf is the most difficult because she has to clear her thoughts while playing. She said she thinks about a lot of things before she hits a shot, but that is the only time.
“If you think about things when you are walking to your ball, you are just going to be mentally drained by the end of the round,” she said.
Rushing, who started playing in tournaments when she was 8 years old, said experience helps the mental aspect of the game.
Mihelich said the team concentrates on its short game at practice.
“We might not be the longest hitters off the tee, but we will definitely score lower on the green,” she said.
In a typical practice, the athletes will spend 30 percent of the time on the driving range and 70 percent chipping and putting on the green. The team has been in inter-squad competition for the last week, which allows Mihelich to determine the best five out of nine team members who will travel to tournaments.
Freshman Amy Lee said while her high school team also had to compete to qualify to travel, it is taken much more seriously at the collegiate level.
She said she has been focusing on putting in preparation for the qualifying practices.
Lee and the team’s other two freshmen, Mattie Linder and Morgan Reimler, live together, which Lee said is helpful.
“We all know what it’s like to balance academics and sports at the same time,” she said.
Mihelich said having support from teammates, rather than feeling like they have to compete against one another, also helps the mental part of the game.
The team will begin play at the Redbird Classic Sept. 9 in Normal.