When Drew first announced that athletics would be adding a men’s and women’s golf team, many students were doubtful that student golfers would be willing to come to Drew and were unsure of the program’s potential success. Those doubts have quickly vanished as Head Coach Maura Ballard led her team to an extremely successful fall season, with the women winning their first home meet and the programs combining for six Athlete of the Week nods, an impressive feat, especially for a brand new program.
Coach Ballard first came to Drew because she was interested in beginning a men’s and women’s golf program from the very beginning stages. She says, “Once I learned more about the prestige of Drew University and the wonderful sense of community we have here, I was sold.” Ballard soon got to work recruiting her first athletes, looking for golfers who were believed in her vision for the future program and trust the plans that she has for the teams. Despite not having a team or culture already established, Ballard has been successful, saying that one of the rewards of starting the program new is that “Our prospective student-athletes and current student-athletes are buying in and building our positive culture!” She has also found that the time the student-athletes spend on the road to be particularly meaningful, as it gives the team time to bond as well as test the skills that they had been working on in practice.
Although their fall season is over, the golf team will be back in action in the spring where each team will compete in three tournaments before heading to conference championships. The winner of the men’s championship will earn an automatic berth to NCAA Championships, and next year the same will apply to the women’s team as Catholic begins a golf program next season. In this offseason is where the difference between DI and DIII golf becomes clear. Although athletes at the DIII level are as serious about their sport as those at the DI level, in DIII athletes cannot be trained by their coaches in the offseason, a rule that Ballard hopes will change one day.
Speaking of golf as a whole, Ballard says that a common misconception is that golf is simply a leisure sport. Golfers need to carry their clubs for 18 or more holes in a game or practice, and that in itself is a workout. In addition, the game itself is very challenging mentally. Ballard explained that “Golf is unique and requires a strong mental mindset because things are happening much more slowly than other sports and the athlete has a lot of time to think things over. This can be good or bad depending on the thoughts on their mind. Mental preparation is a large part of our training and most definitely impacts our golfer’s performance.” This mental preparation is also what distinguishes competitive golfers from recreational golfers; although both groups aim to learn from the game and improve with every round, those competing may go into the round with a plan or certain goal, and then spend time reflecting on that goal and their achievements after the round.
Ballard herself has been a competitive golfer since the 8th grade when she first saw an LPGA tour event. At the time she was an athlete, but had never taken up golf, but was inspired by the tour players, so her mom insisted that she should start playing golf, as you can play it for a lifetime. She fell in love with the sport and wanted to continuously improve, which is what led her to play golf in college and to pursue it as a career.
Reflecting on the program and the work that she has done here at Drew, Ballard wants the campus community to know “Our student-athletes are just as dedicated to their studies as they are to their golf games. They want to become doctors, lawyers, therapists, engineers, entrepreneurs, etc. Our student-athletes are a wonderful addition to our diverse campus community.”