Aztecs chip away at national title hopes

by Rafael Avitabile, Staff Writer

As head coach Leslie Spalding and the San Diego State women’s golf team prepare for the start of the spring collegiate golf season, practice isn’t the only thing on the winter agenda.

Any seasoned golfer can tell you about the importance of the mental side of the game. Spalding wants to ensure that her girls are right between the ears before tournament play starts up again in late February.

Course management, short game, book reports and meditation are just a few of the things you might find the Aztecs working on during their practice sessions at The Farms Golf Club in Rancho Santa Fe, California. “Burn Your Goals” by Joshua Medcalf is the latest piece of literature the girls have been assigned.

“It talks all about the process of how you get to be great,” Spalding said. “It takes daily practice, and not socializing at practice, but actually working on things to develop your game daily. It’s going through the process of hard work every day and getting to the tournament and being free because you know you’ve done the work.”

Engagement is something that Spalding said the team struggled with throughout the fall, despite the Aztecs compiling one of the best fall seasons under her four-year tenure.

Improvements in your swing and overall game come with time and repetition. Collegiate players spend countless hours at the range swinging all 14 clubs in their bag in efforts to perfect every subtle nuance of the stroke. A couple of books and regular meditation sessions can bring the Aztecs mental tranquility on the course and help bridge the gap between practice time and scorecard results.

For two straight years the SDSU women’s golf team has taken the team title at the last event of the fall season, the Las Vegas Collegiate Showdown. Add another team title at the season-opening Colonel Wollenberg Ptarmigan Ram Classic this year, and you can see why SDSU currently holds a ranking of No. 23 on Golfstat and No. 24 on Golfweek.

Junior Emma Henrikson, Golfstat’s 39th-ranked player, anchors the Aztecs with her 72.58 stroke-per-round average. Henrikson started the 2014-15 season in fine fashion with a medalist-worthy performance at the Ram Classic in Fort Collins, Colorado. She also has four career top-five finishes under her belt halfway through her third season on Montezuma Mesa.

Henrikson had the chance to rejoin her Swedish national team over the break in Orlando, Florida, and saw first hand the kind of focus and dedication her coach is trying to instill this spring.

“What I saw was different from how my team practices,” Henrikson said. “They have such good focus. They take a break for five minutes every hour so that they can maintain their focus all day, and they’re there from about 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. That’s the difference between them and my teammates and I. It’s something that I want to improve — quality over quantity.”

It’s all a part of the Aztecs’ mission for a Mountain West title. After finishing third, fifth and third place again in the championship tournament the last three seasons, Spalding and the Aztecs have their sights set on a deep run into the postseason.

“If my team plays the way that they have the ability to play, we have a chance to win a National Championship,” she said. “Every player on this team can break par and make an impact. It’s just the consistency and mental focus that we need, and we’re working hard on it.”

The spring season kicks off on Feb. 23 at the University of California, Irvine Invitational at the Santa Ana Country Club in Santa Ana, California.

Until then the Aztecs will not only be working to knock off the rust from the winter months, but to also find the zen needed to become champions.