Sunday May 22, 2022 | 9:01
Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once joked that baseball “is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
Berra’s fuzzy math aside, his point is clear: sport can be about the mind as well as the body. Perhaps nowhere is this more applicable than in golf, where the toughest opponents are often up against themselves.
Shaler grad Emilee Miller can attest to that. Miller, who has just completed her first season of golf at Carlow, readily admits that she starts to overthink too often, and it can affect her game.
“I definitely need to work on my confidence when I play,” she said. “My game can improve, but if I’m in my head, it’s not.”
Celtics coach Ryan Shank agreed: Miller needs mental toughness to complement his solid game. He praised his shots and his potential to consistently shoot in the 80s and even hit the 70s from time to time.
She showed a glimpse of it in the fall at the United States Collegiate Athletic Association National Tournament at Penn State. She opened with a personal best 81 and was tied for first before shooting 85 in the second round and finishing third. (She finished tied for 51st in the field of 122, which included both men and women.)
Additionally, during the regular season, she won or tied for the first four times in doubles matches.
Shank said Miller had to trust those abilities.
“When she steps over the ball, she has to have the constant belief that she can kick the ball,” he said. “She’s too nice on the golf course. She really needs to have that – I don’t want to use the word ‘killer instinct’ – but she needs to have this mindset: ‘I’m going to play well the whole time I’m here.
“How about the word ‘swagger?’ When she enters the course, she must be a little cocky with herself.
Miller has been involved in sports most of his life, primarily basketball. She took up golf somewhat later in her youth, playing with her father and younger brother at the Wildwood Golf Club.
Playing with them proved beneficial when she got to the college level. She was playing from the men’s tees – “I always feel bad walking them to red (women’s tees)” she said with a laugh – so when she started playing longer courses at university, the distance did not bother her.
His iron game is also strong. Most difficulties begin, she says, once she has the flat stick in her hand.
“When I put, I always put in the head when I’m standing over the ball,” Miller said. “I’ll read my putt and then, at the last minute, I’ll say, ‘No. Read the wrong thing. And then I’ll miss a putt I should make.
Shank said he tried small games with Miller to help boost his confidence. At the River States Conference Championship last month, for example, she opened the event in three rounds with a 92 and then fell to a 99 in the second round.
After seeing Miller’s start and final round descent, Shank decided it was time to give him a goal. He told him to break down the last six holes into two three-hole tournaments and try to beat his two playing partners on each.
“After holes 4, 5 and 6, I walk up to her on the seventh tee and shake her hand,” Shank said. “She said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I said, ‘Congratulations. You have just won your three-hole tournament. Then on the 7th, 8th and 9th she did the same and I shook her hand again.
“She played those last six holes 2-over.”
Over an 18-hole match, that performance would be 6 out of 78 on most courses. That’s the kind of number that Shank and Miller believe is achievable in the future.
She said she plans to work harder than ever over the summer to prepare for the fall 2022 season.
“This spring I was shooting more in the 90s and I want to get past the 90s,” she said. “I like the ‘8’ better in front of the score.”
Miller said she might even take inspiration from the pros. Although she doesn’t watch golf as religiously as her father or brother, Miller has taken time off to attend some of the Masters. She took particular note of Cameron Smith, who was in contention in the final round until he took a triple bogey 6 on the 12th hole.
It was a light bulb moment for Miller. Even the best in the world are wrong.
“It’s not pretty to see, but it’s nice to see people who are in the pros and know what they’re doing, even if they have bad holes,” she said. “Just to see other people mess up like this too, I know I can’t beat myself up too much.”