Junior golfer Brad Miller snagged two school records during an impressive performance at the Marshall Invitational, the men's golf team's season opener in Huntington, W. Va., on Sept. 13 and 14.
Miller posted the lowest two rounds in a tournament in school history with a pair of 5-under 66's. He also tied for the lowest three-round score with an 8-under 213, placing sixth in the tournament.
"It felt good," Miller said. "I've never really shot low until this summer. I've always just been consistently OK so it felt good to actually shoot way low."
The team placed fifth out of 15, shooting 7-under 845. The team's final round tied for the second lowest in school history.
"I'm really happy with how the guys played," head coach Adam Decker said. "I'd certainly like to see a little higher finish, but we're still feeling out the lineup for this year."
Miller had no idea he had broken any school records until the next day, he said, when he received a text message from Jordan Utley, a former member of the men's golf team who he had tied for the three-round record.
"I've been giving him a hard time because he is probably one of the best golfers that came out of Richmond," Miller said. "I kept telling him I'm going to catch him and beat him. He just said, 'I'm happy for you; I've been expecting this, and keep it up.'"
Miller's strong start this year comes after a hiatus during last year's spring season.
During the summer, Miller worked on his short game - chipping and putting - and more importantly, his confidence.
"There were certain parts of my game that I had no confidence in," he said. "I won a tournament my freshman year and then sort of fell off the map so it was just a matter of coming back and re-experiencing the feeling that I had that year."
The mental aspects of the game were particularly important in golf, he said.
"Golf is unlike any other sport in that you can't really get pumped up for it," he said. "The biggest thing is realizing you have 54 holes to make birdies, so if you hit one bad shot, you have 200 more shots to make up for it. It's easy to say but it's hard to do."
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His teammates and coach agreed that the mental aspects of the game were critical, but very difficult to master.
"Golf is such a mental game," Decker said. "It's more about the guys getting out of their own way and not reacting to poor shots."
Sam Beach, senior team captain, agreed.
"As you get better and better it becomes more and more important," he said. "Once you're good enough, mental skills are what separate the kids who win from the kids who do OK in tournaments."
This year, both the men's and women's golf teams are focusing on mental skills with new intensity. They are each working with Deborah Graham, a sports psychologist who has worked with more than 300 tour professionals.
"We're at an academic-oriented university and [the players] can't practice the way they probably want to," said Jill Briles-Hinton, head coach of the women's team. "So as coaches we have to come up with ways to get the most out of their game."
Graham is a leading researcher in her field, Hinton said. Hinton worked with Graham when she was on the LPGA tour.
In her research, Graham identified eight traits of champion golfers. She met with the players last week to introduce her training model and help them recognize strengths and weaknesses.
"In a nutshell, what we do with golf psych is try to help players reach their maximum potential," Graham said. "We help them develop champion traits by teaching them to think their way around the golf course.
"The really neat thing is that what they learn from improving in golf helps them in other aspects of their lives. It can be used in test taking, careers and relationships."
Beach has used Graham's strategies in practice already and they seemed to work, he said.
"Competing at the college level, the mental side is very important," Beach said. "We've never addressed it before, so I'm glad we're working with Dr. Graham. I think scores can only improve from here."
Contact staff writer Ali Eaves at firstname.lastname@example.org
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