You won’t often hear the words come out of their mouths, but those watching them play will say them plenty.
They’ll talk around the idea in public, and surely think about it often in private, but that’s the goal for Mississippi State’s women’s golf team. One of them, anyway. They’re No. 3 in the country, finished fourth at the NCAA Championships last year and are even better this year as the spring season begins this weekend.
It’s dangerous to use those words when talking about any team in any sport before a season has even begun, but MSU is alright with it.
“Honestly,” head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm told reporters, “I can tell you I expected to be here.”
Said senior star Ally McDonald, “That’s why I came to Mississippi State.”
As for the middle area between now and the championships at the end of the spring – a period called, well, the season – MSU will be aware of their goal, but won’t focus on it. It’s a cliché, to be sure, but it’s one day at a time for the Bulldogs. And really, even that might be too broad a thought if their minds are to remain healthy.
In golf, the only safe way to go about it is one stroke at a time. One swing, one fluid movement, unaffected by the last one or the next one.
Ernest Hemingway once said that when writing, his goal was always to write one great sentence. Focus on that sentence and make it perfect. And then after that, write one more great sentence. Do that enough, and he had a full novel of great sentences adding up to a great literary work.
The same idea applies in golf, perhaps more there than in any sport. In such a mental game, where frustrations, distractions, superstitions and the like have such an easy time creeping into minds, having a clear head is a pretty big deal. That’s why Brown-Lemm requires her team to devote one hour every week, one of the 20 they’re allowed by NCAA guidelines, to mental conditioning.
“It’s more about training yourself mentally for shot recovery,” she said. “You’re gonna hit bad shots … Minimize damage. Don’t make double. … Battle yourself.
“How do you prepare yourself to mess up? Because you’re gonna.
“Then, how do you get yourself in a peak performance state? We dedicate an hour of our 20 to that very thing.”
Whatever tricks of the mind they’re learning, it seems to be working. MSU’s women’s golf team has risen quickly the last several years from pushover, to surprise competitor to national contender. National Championship contender, one might say.
As they’ve ascended the ranks, so have several other programs at MSU, creating a combination of rivalry and inspiration among themselves. Brown-Lemm, watching MSU’s 13th-ranked women’s basketball team, is pushed to be just as good, and better if she can pull it off.
“I promise that coaches are as competitive or more competitive than the players we coach,” she said. “I want to make sure I do my part.”
Watching MSU’s football team rise to No. 1 in the country, boast a Heisman contender and be selected for the Orange Bowl, the golfers were able to take lessons they’ll put into use this spring.
“I feed off Dan Mullen’s notoriety,” Brown-Lemm said. “All the coverage that he gets maroon on that television, I use to inspire myself and these young ladies.
“I want to make sure that women’s golf is always there representing Mississippi State athletics.”
The last few years, they have been. Now, the race continues: who will be the first to win a team National Championship at MSU? Many have been close, none have yet accomplished the feat. Several Maroon and White contenders will go for it this spring, and women’s golf will be right in the middle of it, one stroke at a time.
“We’re not gonna be scared of it,” McDonald said. “A lot of people shy away from pressure … Day-to-day we work to get where we want to be when the National Championship comes around.”