May 2, 2014
During the first couple of Cowgirl golf tournaments this spring, Emily didn't make the traveling team. At one point since her arrival on campus three years ago her stroke average ballooned to 92.4.It was obvious something had to change.
Something changed alright. By the end of Wyoming's 2014 spring season, the redshirt sophomore from Cheyenne not only made the cut, she led the Cowgirls at last weekend's Mountain West Championships with the team's highest individual finish in two years, tying for 14th in a field of 45 players. During her final three meets of the season, her stroke average dropped to 76.7, a team low. She tied for second among all golfers at the championships in birdies. Her first-round 74 tied for the Cowgirls' lowest round of the spring.
"I give her a tremendous amount of credit," says Stender. "It's the most remarkable turnaround I've ever seen during my years of coaching. She has made a 13-shot improvement, which is almost unheard of. That's amazing! It just shows that if you are patient and believe in the process, you can improve yourself.
What's your perspective on the subject, Emily?
"I had to make a few swing changes for sure," Emily says. "But it really went beyond that. I had to change my mentality, change my attitude. I asked myself, `Why am I struggling?' I decided the answer was instead of enjoying the sport, I was stressing out about everything. At one point I got the `shanks.' I couldn't hit anything. It was devastating. I wasn't enjoying the game. The longer it went on, the more stressed I got. My swing got really mechanical. I was asking myself, `Why am I putting myself through this?' Golf is a mental game, and it can beat you down. I thought about stepping away.
"But I love playing this game, and I love being a teammate. I realized how lucky I was to be earning a golf scholarship at this level. Instead of worrying about everything, I just decided to have fun playing. Instead of stressing about it, I decided to enjoy the moment. I would distract myself. If I made a bad shot, I'd look around and enjoy the mountains, the palm trees, the beauty of the course. I missed the first two tournaments this spring but that attitude adjustment started to help me. I was excited about playing my way into our third tournament, and I played pretty well. I worked my way into the lineup and really started enjoying myself."
The game would be far more enjoyable if we all could do that.
Her mercurial rise couldn't solely be attributed to an attitude adjustment, there were a few more pieces involved.
"Coach Stender really helped me," Emily admits. "She would pull me aside and tell me that my swing was fine, I just had to challenge myself and find a way to score better. She just kept supporting me. She showed faith in me at a time when I wasn't giving her a whole lot of reason to."
"The great thing about Emily is that she stayed true to who she was," says Stender. "She believed in her strengths, and I think that gave her confidence. Obviously her strength is her mental game. She is sunshine to her teammates because she has a great perspective, and is so positive. She `tripled' early in the round on the last day of the Mountain West Championships while I was watching her. She told me, `I'm fine, I can forget about it', and she did. She legitimately plays in the `now.'"
Make no mistake, Woodard is a very competitive and special young lady, on and off the golf course. An excellent student, she is majoring in chemistry and has plans to attend medical school. She's going to play a lot of golf during the off-season this summer, but she also plans to "shadow" doctors in her hometown as well as in Denver as part of her course work.
"I haven't decided whether I want to go into research or be a family practitioner," she says. "I'm very interested in neurology. Both of my grandfathers suffer from Parkinson's. I would really love to be involved in finding a cure for an illness like that.
Student-athletes are unique individuals. It's a difficult balance between competing in a sport and handling the academic load, especially a load like Woodard carries. "I've been really focused academically," she says. "But I wanted to play golf in college and I'm so grateful to have a scholarship. Sure, sometimes it's really hard working things out, but everyone is pretty understanding. I'm a nerd and that helps," she says with a grin.
Woodard began playing golf with her dad, Lee (a one-handicap.) when she was seven years of age. "I didn't like it all that much at first, she says, but I loved riding in the cart with my dad. After I started playing in some junior golf tournaments I guess the competitiveness came out in me. I have had a lot of great help from my dad and others along the way." She also enjoys playing with her mother, Rhonda. Those rounds include friendly wagers like, "who's going to do the dishes, or who's going to cook," Emily smiles.
At 5-11, Woodard is the tallest Cowgirl, and the only one on the roster from Wyoming. At that height one would expect her to be a big hitter. She says otherwise. "I don't hit my driver all that far, at least like you would think I would at my height. My strength is my short game, especially my putter. I just love that club."
While playing golf at Wyoming is difficult at times, Woodard believes it's nothing that can't be overcome. "We have had to be creative sometimes, and visualize while we are hitting indoors. We certainly make the most of it when we get outside. It's the touch around the green that usually needs the most attention when we have the opportunity to play outside. Our new hitting facility is going to change all that. It is going to be awesome because it will give us a chance to track the ball flight, are we hitting it too low, are we hooking, are we slicing. It's going to make a tremendous difference."
Both the Cowgirls and the Cowboys will begin practice in a new facility at Jacoby Golf Course soon and that will be a game-changer. It will be state of the art, according to Stender.
"I think we feel for the first time we have a place that's really `ours,'" she says. "There are many of these facilities around the country, but the technology in this one will be second to none. Every aspect of our kids' game will improve. Just walking in the door will give them confidence. It will be amazing."
Woodard is very analytical, and certainly sees a lot of things she can do better on the golf course. "Well, I have to become more consistent that's for sure," she says. "But it's all about eliminating the little problems that I can control. I have to be a better course manager for example. Believe me, there's plenty of room for improvement."
Just think how good she can be if she improves even half as much as she has already! Emily, how about just a couple of lessons. . .
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