BACK IN THE SWING

By Shreya Pal

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

When it comes to golf, practice might not make perfect, but constant repetition is mandatory if you want to take your game to the highest level.

That’s exactly what I had in mind when I committed to play golf for the University of North Texas.

I’m from India, so I knew there’d be challenges, and I’d have my fair share of culture shock when I moved to the United States, but I was not prepared for what happened during my final year back home in India.

Everything was lining up perfectly.

I was practicing and competing in tournaments to achieve my goals and aspirations I had for UNT, and then, much like the rest of the world, 2020 flipped my world upside down.

My parents are military doctors, so they move every three years.

We moved to Northeast India, where the climate is bitterly cold, and access to golf ranges is little to none.

Combine that with the effects of Covid, and I couldn’t play golf.

For 18 months.

How was I supposed to compete against some of the best golfers in the country when I couldn’t practice?

My spirit was crushed.

My confidence couldn’t have been lower.

I knew when I arrived in Denton at UNT, I’d immediately be at a disadvantage.

I was pretty much starting from scratch.

Finding my passion and dream school

You hear stories about how golfers fall in love with the sport at a young age as soon as they step on the course, but that was not the case for me.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

I hated golf.

My dad’s an avid golfer, so he had me swing a club by the time I could barely walk.

I love my dad more than anything, but my passion for golf didn’t start until I was around 12 years old and started to play by myself.

It was almost as if I needed to find my passion for the sport on my own.

I began playing competitively through the years and started to get noticed by colleges in the United States.

UNT became my top choice early in the recruiting process for a couple different reasons.

For starters, I knew of two Indians that came to UNT to play golf, so there was some familiarity and comfort in knowing two other girls from my homeland came here to play and had great success.

But what really won me over was Coach Akers.

I was terrified to come to the United States all alone, but just getting to know him in the recruiting process, he was such a caring person and had an immense warmth about him.

When he told me he’d look after me while I was here, I believed him.

So when he ultimately called me and offered me a scholarship, I accepted immediately.

I didn’t need time to think about it.

And I couldn’t have been more excited.

Losing my swing

As I said before, I knew what I was signing up for.

There would be plenty of hardships and difficulties.

I just didn’t know there’d be so many before I even stepped foot on campus.

I was supposed to attend UNT during the fall semester of 2020, but there were no available flights with Covid.

I was literally stuck in India – in the cold – with no access to travel or available courses or ranges to practice on.

I finally hopped on a plane and arrived at UNT in January 2021.

If you combine the cold weather and Covid shutting everything down during my final year of high school, I went 18 months without practicing golf.

Needless to say, one of the first things I did when I came to Denton was practice by swing.

I had 18 months of rust to wear off, and I’m not sure if I was worried more about the physical or mental part of my game.

Truthfully, I was deeply concerned about both.

I was terrified to come to the United States all alone, but just getting to know him in the recruiting process, he was such a caring person and had an immense warmth about him. When he told me he’d look after me while I was here, I believed him.

Live in the moment

The first few months of my freshman season were incredibly challenging. There was a time when I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to regain the confidence I once had.

After not playing golf in so long, it almost worked out better for me to take that first season as a chance to get back into golf and learn about what it takes to excel at the collegiate level.

I’m in my junior season now, and after playing very little during my freshman season and just getting back to the fundamentals, I’m so proud of the progress I’ve made.

I was able to play a significant role on the team last season, and look forward to more bright moments this season, but I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in without my teammates and Coach Akers.

We’re all different in so many ways. We come from these various cultures in places all over the world, and yet, we all share so much common ground.

I’ve never been on a team with so much unity.

We’re a family.

And I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have my Mean Green family with me these past few years.

Something I learned during my time here is that even at your lowest point, if you live in the moment and take it one day at a time, you’re going to be okay and come out better for it in the long run.

Even if you go 18 months without hitting a golf ball.