Miami-Dade High Schools

This state champion golf team plans to continue its winning tradition. Here is how.

American Heritage golfer Alena Linah practices at the Lago Mar Country Club in Plantation, Florida, September 11, 2018.
American Heritage golfer Alena Linah practices at the Lago Mar Country Club in Plantation, Florida, September 11, 2018. ctrainor@miamiherald.com

There’s a side of golf that remains hidden from the general public. Edited from the news hour highlights, cut from the amazing hole-in-one or the more spectacular missed putts is a very specific pre-shot routine, and the soft-paced walk in the park that precedes it.

Yes, this game is even slower than you think. But there are those who enjoy it.

“Next up, from American Heritage, Plantation … Casey Weidenfeld!!!!”

Coach Linda Sibio does the announcements in her attempt to invoke some sort of collegiate ambiance, and the girls cheer accordingly. But they had to wait for their turn to come into the course at Lago Mar Country Club, as the men that came before them moved on to the next hole. Such is life in Florida high school golf.

Weidenfeld steps to the box, plants her tee and the ball and takes her time to rehearse her swing. She then steps to the side, to a spot from where she can see the ball and her target, about 300 yards away. She returns to her original stance, and only then does she take a hit at it. After a few seconds of flight, the distance seems to swallow the little dimpled sphere.

A REAL SPORT

As much as one can try to explain the sport to outsiders, it takes one playing to be able to understand it, if not appreciate it. With different clubs for each shot, and courses often guarded inside country clubs, it can be an expensive game. In a time of short attention spans, it can be frustrating. But those playing it get to lose themselves in the analysis of details. Time flies when one is tuned in.

During the past few seasons, the girls at American Heritage have been some of the best at doing that. The defending Class 2A state champions lost individual champion Jillian Bourdage to dual enrollment, but quickly replaced her with new leaders — and have plenty on the pipeline. In a double meet with sibling school Delray American Heritage, the team showed up with a group that includes a seventh-grader.

“There’s no luck in how they get to pull out so different shots,” Sibio said. “These are shots they work on every day, and why they’re up on the course on weekends at 6:30 a.m.

Sibio, the American Heritage coach since 2010, was a basketball player for West Kentucky University during the ‘80s, and even made the Final Four. Decades later, her knees and ankles “shot,” she can’t play her sport anymore. Which is why she sees so much value in golf.

“Some of them won’t even play in college because the school they choose won’t have a program, but golf is something you can play your entire life,” she said.

Newer joints and an old soul seem to be the recipe, as 15-year-old Weidenfeld remarks: “It’s the overall feel of the game, more like it’s a mature sport, and I often feel like I’m older than my peers.”

A dystopian fiction writer in her time off, Weidenfeld is the best player in the team, and just orally committed to Auburn University. A golfer from an early age, she qualified for USGA Women’s Amateur Championship last August and wants to top that missed cut finish this time around.

“As teenagers, they’re building their confidence,” Sibio said. “Other sports have more intangibles; this one is about mental toughness and keeping your confidence.”

ALL ABOUT CONTROL

As they move on between shots, coaches and parents follow the girls in a caravan of golf carts packed with snacks and umbrellas. For now, the black cloud that has been sitting on top refuses to unload. Instead, the moist is becoming more challenging by the minute.

“The best weather would be 75 and sunny, with little wind,” says 17-year-old Alena Lindh, the captain and only senior in the team. The mention of the weather kicks off the monologue about the mental side of golf.

“A lot of people think we just stand here and hit the ball. A lot of sports are very reactionary: you’re reacting to a stimulus or a player moving towards you,” she said. “In golf, you have to react to something that’s not moving. You are moving, and you need to be in control of your mind and your body, to make things that are so precise happen where things aren’t under control: the wind, the heat, the rain. You need to be the most adaptable player you can be in order to be the most successful.”

Lindh has a lot of complains to add to the list, like the fact that women’s clubs and apparel are confined to a little corner of the golf stores. Or that, despite the recent popularity of the LPGA, successful women golfers still get way less airtime than their male counterparts.

“That’s why being on this team, surrounded by other girls who want the exact same thing than me, makes me much more driven to work harder,” she said.

After all that agitation, she brings herself back to zen-like concentration a few minutes later, like a silent flip of the switch.

So that is what makes a golfer good.

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