Golf is a unique sport here on campus, as it is an individually-focused sport and the matches take place off campus. So far the team has played consistently this off-season, with the team usually placing in the top 10 out of 20 with their best tournament being fourth place in the Pat Lesser Harbottle Invite on Oct. 11-12. Yet the team continues to show that they have the strong mentality needed to compete with top schools in Southern California, especially post-Division I transition. Marc Machado, head coach for the women’s golf team, took over the program in 2016 and has led the team since, helping to manage the team as they compete at the DI level and elevate the level of play.
In golf, there are many unique challenges from a coaching perspective. Unlike basketball or soccer, where you have an in-season and out-of-season period, golf blends the two together. The team plays almost year-round, with their regular season being in the spring. Their only real off-season is during the summer and from November through December.
Golf also differs in the way the matches are designed. The teams they play against change from year to year due to golf being an invite-only sport, so even if a school like Grand Canyon University is hosting a tournament, it does not mean any team will get to play in it. It is a unique challenge for Machado, having to manage the team and practice on one hand while ensuring the team gets into the tournaments necessary to sharpen those skills before the conference. Sometimes they end up on a waiting list for two or even three years to get into certain tournaments.
“The top schools like UCLA or Stanford, it’s hard for us to get in there because its kind of a lose-lose for them,” Machado said. “If we play well it doesn’t look good on them, so we’re playing a lot of mid-major tournaments where we get to see people from the Midwest (and) a lot of Western schools.”
The difficulties of getting in-season matches and tournaments have an effect on the way the team approaches conferences as well. Unlike other sports where you see teams from the conference throughout the season, there is a possibility you may go the whole season and not see anyone from the conference. This can make preparation for playing against conference teams difficult, especially because the conference decides who will advance to regionals.
Getting into regionals is the ultimate goal for Machado and the women’s golf team.
“In order to qualify for regionals, which is the main goal, (one of) two things have to happen: either you have to be ranked top 60 or 50 in the nation, or you have to win the conference to get an automatic qualifier,” Machado said. “So really it comes down to conference for us. If you win, you get to go to regionals. If you don’t, then you don’t because the tournaments that we’re in, it’s very tough to go be ranked top 50 or 60 in the nation when (we) can’t get into some of the bigger events because it’s invite only. So it’s kind of that double-edged sword.”
Shifting away from how the team operates as a whole, it is important to realize that while they may play as a team, it still comes down to individual performance. The way matches work is every player must try to score as low as possible, the top five players from each team add the scores up and whichever team has the lowest score wins.
One way Machado focuses on this aspect is by having one-on-ones with his players and discussing areas of improvement, whether that be chipping or putting. Machado also takes detailed notes and statistics on his players to see where they could improve.
“In golf, numbers don’t lie,” Machado said. “At the end of the day, you shoot what you shoot, but there has to be a reason why you’re shooting that number. The first thing we track is attitude. If you don’t have a good attitude that affects everything. We’re all about your attitude here — how you finish your last four holes. That’s usually the time when everyone gets tired — they’re hungry, they’re over it, and they kind of pack it in. When you’ve got five players playing for the last four holes, that’s 20 holes of golf. That’s an entire round of golf and that’s where the leaderboard goes crazy at the end.”
Machado has ensured that he gives the women’s golf team a fighting chance year in and year out despite the difficulties of getting into bigger tournaments and regionals. This is reflected in the attitudes of the team and the way they compete and care for one another throughout the long season.
With golf being such an individual sport, it’s easier to give up and look down on yourself, but it’s my teammates that keep me going every day,” said Esther Lee, junior biology major and member of the golf team.
“As a team, we bond simply by doing the small things together, whether it’s helping each other out during practice, eating dinner together after practice, or even talking about our lives while playing golf. Even though we compete individually when we go to tournaments, we are always sticking together as a team before we go out to compete on our own. Since we have practiced together every day as a team, it ultimately brings us closer together as we spend so much time together.”
This support does not just apply to in-season, but to off-season as well. Golf is a technical sport, so unless you maintain and improve in the off-season you end up playing catch-up at the start of the season.
“During the season, I prepare myself by giving 100% effort in everything that we do, whether it’s the 6 a.m. workouts, or practices that last three hours,” Lee said.
“I try not to waste my time during these hours as this program provides all these facilities and resources to help me improve my game which I don’t want to take for granted. I try to practice when I have time, but it’s quite difficult for me, especially with my major. However, my teammates push me to go to practice whenever they want to go, which also gives me company when we go to practice instead of going alone. I also like to go golfing with my dad on the weekends when there’s time.”
Haruka Shintani, senior kinesiology major and member of the golf team, said the team does well in the short game, such as chipping and putting as well as keeping a good mindset and attitude.
Mentality is one area in golf that these athletes must focus on. Sharing some of the mental struggles that come with the game points out how to become a better player as a whole.
“More confidence is one area we could improve in,” Shintani said. “Everyone has a good game, but we are not really confident in our games. Last year we finished above fifth all the time, but we couldn’t win. Every time we finished second or third. If we were more confident, maybe we could win.”
The women’s golf team continues preparing for the season and sharpening their skills as they continue to chase their goal of placing first in a tournament and hope to ultimately snag a spot in regionals.