Illinois women’s golf team starts spring season with annual exhibition

By Benjy Sabitt

Tweet: Spring season begins Saturday for women’s golf

The Illinois women’s golf team is back in action Saturday, after more than three months off.

Illinois will travel to Venice, Fla. to face Illinois State in The Illinois Challenge for the eighth consecutive year. The Illini have won all eight times in the match-play style exhibition event, and look to keep the string of success going.

Head coach Renee Slone sees it as a great opportunity for her players.

“It’s a great way for everyone to get back into competitive mode,” Slone said. “It’s always good to see where everyone’s at so we can look at what needs to be worked on.”

Like the rest of her team, junior Stephanie Miller was able to use the break to work on a variety of different things in her game. Miller said she used the break to change her grip and shorten her swing.

Miller said she spent just as much time strengthening her mental game. 

like to keep myself more aware of my emotions, and how it affects my
game,” she said. “I’m just trying to limit the damage and save that one
or two strokes, because it does make a difference.”

Slone has been preaching mental toughness to her players and sees it as something the team could vastly improve.

“The mental side is a very large percentage of the game of golf,” Slone said. “It’s something that varies player to player. One thing could be developing confidence in oneself, another could be managing frustration, for others it can be managing expectations, when things are going well, feeling good about that. For some, it’s just about going out there and playing fearlessly.”

Senior Katherine Hepler transferred from Missouri to Illinois over the summer, but hasn’t played due to a stress fracture. During her time off, Hepler tried to buy into Slone’s approach, and keep her emotions in check while she was on the course.

Although Miller and Helper are two of three upperclassmen on a team filled with young talent, they don’t feel like much needs to be said to the younger women before the season.

“A lot of these girls on this team are pretty mature for their age,” Hepler said. “Few and far between I’ll really feel the need to say anything.” 

Miller added that she tells the younger players to “try to stay in the present, go out there and have fun, and just do your best.”

Although the Illinois Challenge is the only match-play event for the team before the Big Ten Championships in April, they like to keep their approach and preparation the same.

“We don’t want to complicate things,” Slone said. “Keep it simple, play golf, and play it to the best of your ability.”