I may or may not have been waiting to write until some sort of breakthrough happened on the course— so I'm glad for this blog's sake that my play has improved recently!
The past few months on tour have been a bit of a struggle. I have been working hard, learning and adjusting, giving it my all, but I’ve been frustrated with my results. I have felt stuck at two to three over par, constantly watching the cut line. I shot a dismal 76-74-75 to finish T-53rd in Lake Wales, FL in early April. The windy and rainy conditions had something to do with my high score, but my erratic and impatient play had more to do with it.
Two weeks later, I was incredibly excited to play in Fort Myers (where I finished T-5th in 2014) as our tournament was held in conjunction with an LPGA Legends Tour event. I had visions of strolling the fairways with the likes of Nancy Lopez and Pat Bradley on the weekend. Instead, I shot 75-73 and was left strolling the beach without a tee time. My driver was totally out of whack (literally)-- I only hit 57% of fairways in two days compared to my usual average of 78% —and my short game continued to let me down. I popped one out-of-bounds for an untimely triple early in the second round to put me outside the cut line. I dug deep and birdied four of the next six holes, but I couldn’t make par saves when I needed to, and a few more bogeys on the back nine cost me.
I arrived in Sarasota determined to make THAT my week, but alas, more of the same. I shot 76-72-73 and finished T-39th. I straightened out the driver (71% of fairways), and my ball striking continued to be strong on what is a very difficult golf course (65% GIR), but again I could not score. No matter how well I hit the ball, it is tough to shoot under par if I lose two to four shots every day to missed up and downs.
FINALLY, the tide turned this past weekend at the Symetra Tour’s biggest event and unofficial “major” in Greenwood, South Carolina. If you wanted to skip ahead to read the last page of the book, it would say: Sheils ties tournament record with 67 on Sunday to jump to 5th place. If you wanted to know the whole story, chapter one would start with the aforementioned tournament disappointments. Chapter two was my trip to visit my old friend Brinson Paolini on my off-weekend before Greenwood. He helped to fix my chipping stance and technique so that I was finally in a position to hit solid chips again. Chapter three was a long conversation I had with LPGA Legends Val Skinner and Rosie Jones at the pro-am party on Monday night. They shared a lot of valuable insight, but some advice from Rosie in particular about visualizing in vivid detail each part of a round before going out to play really stuck with me. I’ve heard this advice from plenty of sports psychologists and coaches along the way, but actually hearing the personal anecdote from a 13-time winner on the LPGA Tour was pretty convincing. I tried some of my own visualization last week and was happy with the boost it gave my confidence on the course. Chapter four was my hours of struggle on the putting green on Tuesday afternoon before realizing I needed to fix my hunched posture at address. Chapter five was the dozens of videos and text messages I exchanged daily with my coach Terry Rowles as I fine-tuned my swing on the range. Chapter six was the first three rounds of solid play but still feeling I had left a lot of shots out there.
Things fell into place in the final round. It was so much fun to tee off late on a Sunday knowing I had a chance to make a move on the leaderboard. These are the days that drive me, the reason I practice—so that I can perform when these moments arrive. My front nine was one of the best I can remember. Six birdies in seven holes! I don’t think I tensed up on the back nine; the holes on that side are just harder for me. I made some great par saves on the 10th, 11th, and 16th holes, but stumbled on the 13th hole with a three-putt. My final birdie came on the short par-five 18th hole that I hit in two and two-putted for birdie. 31-36 for a 67, 5th place, and the biggest paycheck of my career.
It was gratifying to see my hard work pay off. However, I am far from satisfied with 5th place. I want to win. I will keep working hard every day, repeating the same type of steps I outlined above, until the big move on Sunday puts a trophy in my hands.
I am SO happy to be in Asheville, North Carolina this week for the second of the Symetra Tour’s three-week Carolinas swing. Yesterday I took a long drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway south of town and enjoyed some breathtaking views in the Smokey Mountains. I then had an awesome hot yoga class at one of my all-time favorite studios, Asheville Yoga Center. I have a long “to-eat” list compiled of great local restaurants to visit throughout this week. This city has everything I love! I believe my happy heart will lead to some happy golf too :)
This blog was almost entirely about my time on the golf course, but there has been plenty happening "outside of the ropes" too. I will let my pictures explain the rest.