Monday, April 9, 2012

Wahl's Secret to Success – Stay Calm and See What Happens

ETSU freshman Gabriella Wahl fired a first-round 67, tying the A-Sun Championship record for a single round. At five-under-par she leads the A-Sun Championship by three strokes.

ETSU Head Coach Stefanie Shelton says the back nine on Venetian Bay Golf Club was a microcosm of freshman Gabriella Wahl’s season. Wahl was two-under and tied for the lead with defending champion Alex Buelow heading into number 13.

That’s when it happened. The focused and stoic Wahl proceeded to fire three consecutive birdies, and Shelton knew that all the hard work was paying off.

“When she went birdie-birdie-birdie, I knew that she was in the zone,” says Shelton. “That is how it has been for her all season. She is just a sponge and soaks in all you work on, then goes out and works very hard to implement that on the course. She takes what she learns and goes one step at a time, playing a very regimented game. Today that is what she did, and you could see the process in her game. When she hit that streak on the back nine, you could see on her face that she was working through everything, not letting the highs or the lows play a factor.”

Wahl fired a five-under-par 67 in her first A-Sun Championship, tying the championship record low round set by another ETSU Buc, Laura Jansone, in 2008. She leads defending champion and Stetson ace Alex Buelow and Kennesaw State’s Ket Preamchuen by three strokes.

There was never a question that Wahl has the talent to be successful. She has finished in the top 25 of eight of the nine tournaments this season, and has three top-10 finishes this season, including a win in the Bucs’ final tournament of the season. Wahl shot three rounds under par at the John Kirk/Panther Intercollegiate to secure the victory, and expected to carry that momentum into her first A-Sun Championship.

“I had a pretty good tournament last week, and tried to continue that into this week,” she says. “I have worked on keeping the emotions out of the game, staying calm when I have bad shots or when I get on a streak like I did a little today. My goal is to not allow too many emotions in my game.”

Wahl didn’t play poorly on the front nine, missing a few puts that were right on the line but just short. At the turn her approach did not change, and things began to click.

“I tried to stay patient. I knew that they would fall because my stroke felt nice,” she says. “I just tried to continue what I did on the front and just hit it. My shots into the green were pretty much the same the entire round, and then the putts started to fall.

“I didn’t really feel any kind of pressure today. My team and my coaches were encouraging me, and I tried really hard not to put pressure on myself.”

Catching the freshman after turning in her scorecard, you would never describe her as emotionless or stoic. When informed about the record that she tied in her opening round, she gave a big smile and said, “Oh, that’s cool.”

Wahl is also very expressive and intentional when speaking about her first year at ETSU and the “family” that she has grown to know since September.

“My freshman season has been a wonderful experience. This has been my most favorite season of all in my golf career,” she says. “I learned so much from coach, and my whole game has improved in a major way. I like the way I feel on the course and I trust my abilities much more. There has never been a step back this season.”

The Buccaneer roster has a very distinct international flavor, something that the German native appreciates very much as well. Her teammates hail from England ( Lauren Smith, Cramlington, England; Sian Evans, Gillingham, England), Spain (Mayte Vizcarrondo, Cadiz, Spain), South Africa (Chloe Garner, Somerset West, South Africa), and Germany (Larissa Steinfeldt, Eschweiler, Germany).

“I love the ETSU facility, and the people that surround us are amazingly supportive, especially Coach Shelton. She knows a lot about short game, which I needed to improve in and I did. I love that we are all international, and so we are all in the same boat. No one has family here, they are all away, and so this team is like a family. I just love it.”

In a word, she describes her freshman season as “fun.”
As the freshman begins her second round as the championship leader, she admits that it will be difficult not to think about her position. However, just like during her performance in Monday’s round, keeping things in balance and not allowing emotions to dictate her game will be the key for her continued success.

“I can’t help but think about it. I will try to think about it in a positive way, to enjoy it right now,” she says. “I can’t control the way that other players will play in the next two rounds, and there are good players in this field.

“I will just try to get the game on the course that I know I have, and stay away from emotions.”

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