Golf: Heal tackles mental side of game

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Denton’s Lindsey Heal lines up a drive Thursday at Oakmont Country Club in Corinth.
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To achieve true success, a golfer first must conquer the most imposing threat before traversing the elements of the course. A golfer’s brain has several responsibilities when it comes to producing a consistent swing, but Denton’s Lindsey Heal’s primary concern is managing her self-imposed pressure, fear and excitement before she approaches the first tee box.

“When I first started golf, I was the kid that when they missed a shot that would literally embed their club in the ground,” Heal said. “Now if you miss a shot, especially at the regional level, and you do that, you’re disqualified. Regardless, you have to tell yourself to be more focused and that’s not going to happen. If you miss a shot, you have to tell yourself you are going to make the next one.”

While she has learned to cut out adolescent displays of anger that even the world’s top golfers sometimes exhibit, Heal says there is only so much she can control when she competes as one of two district wild cards in the Class 4A Region I tournament today and Thursday at Diamondback Golf Club in Abilene.

“I know I’m going to play to the best of my ability, and I know there are girls out there that are so much better than I am,” Heal said. “They live, breathe and eat golf. That’s just all they do. I have other stuff I want to do. I don’t intend on being a professional golfer. I want to be a physical therapist. So I’m going to play my hardest and hopefully shoot the lowest score I’ve ever shot. If state happens, I will be the most excited and I’ll work that much harder for state.”

Many possible remedies exist for a broken swing. In Tin Cup, Kevin Costner’s Roy McAvoy was advised by his caddie to put all his change in his left pocket, tie a double knot on his left shoe, turn his hat backward and put a tee behind his left ear to fix his case of the “shanks.”

Heal doesn’t go to those lengths to stay mentally engaged, but she is utilizing the acronym SFT that her head coach, Mick Maxey, suggested to her from the recent golf movie Seven Days in Utopia.

“I wrote ‘SFT’ on some of my golf balls,” Heal said. “You see the shot before you hit it. You feel your club hitting the ball and basically throwing the ball where you want, and you have to trust that it’s going to get there. That’s what I used at my district tournament, and it helped a lot.”

Maxey has guided Heal through the season’s perils with a minimalistic point of view on the pitfalls of a golfer’s mind. His message is simple: Relax.

“We talk about how pressure comes from self,” Maxey said. “It’s not like she’s playing for life or death. It’s a game. You play the game. If I can look at you and see how you’re playing, that’s not a good thing. You’ve got to always remain calm. There are always going to be ups and downs. It’s how you handle those things.”

Although Heal considers herself mildly transparent, often chatting up her competition while playing, she keeps the game in perspective. Golf is not the beginning or the end of the world for her. Whenever Heal does have problems with the mental side of golf, Maxey has been more than just a reliable source of guidance and information.

“I think a lot of it with him has been the mental part of the game,” Heal said. “He is kind of like a second dad. He’s always been there and we can always tell him anything. If you’re struggling with golf or you’re getting frustrated, you can go to him to calm down or for a strategy to keep yourself calm.”

Heal was able to tame the mental demons at district, where she shot a two-round score of 178 at Canyon West Golf Club in Weatherford to advance to regionals, and she has been fine-tuning her swing since then in hopes of qualifying for the state tournament.

Heal doesn’t have the shanks, but her swing does have some flaws that she would like to eliminate. In the increasingly tech-savvy sport, golfers have access to diagnostic equipment that can recognize the intricacies of a swing.

During one such assessment, Heal and her coaches noticed that the speed with which she was swinging her driver was getting her into trouble. To fix the trickle-down problems that an overly quick swing can cause, Heal will be using a special driver for regionals.

“When we looked at an app on the phone, we looked at my swing with my old driver,” Heal said. “We looked at the new one, and it was easier to get my club head squarer to the ball.”

So Maxey lent Heal a driver similar to hers but with a stiffer shaft. The club has a bit of school history attached to it.

“My No. 1 [player] Payton Andress last year played with that club,” Maxey said. “She used it last year, and then when she graduated, she gave it to me. I had replacement shoulder surgery last fall, so I haven’t been able to play in almost a year. Then Lindsey said, ‘Coach, your clubs are available.’ So I said, ‘Put it in your bag, dear,’ and she has hit it pretty well.”

When Heal steps to her first tee box today, she already could be winning the mental game. She just has to overcome the West Texas winds, elevation changes, wooded areas and speedy greens that make Diamondback a challenge.

“Once you get onto the tee box, everything goes away and you start focusing on your shot,” Heal said. “I still have my yardage guide from last year, and I use it on the range. I look at that and think, ‘You’re going to play this hole now.’ So when I walk up to that tee box, I think, ‘I’ve played this hole before.’”

PATRICK HAYSLIP can be reached at 940-566-6873.

 


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