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New perspective, same attitude lead to positive results for women's golf

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UK freshman Sarah Harris helped the Wildcats achieve their best SEC Tournament finish in 20 years with a second-place 9-over-par last weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics) UK freshman Sarah Harris helped the Wildcats achieve their best SEC Championships finish in 20 years with a second-place 9-over-par last weekend. (Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)
On her final hole of the Southeastern Conference Championships, freshman Kentucky golfer Sarah Harris walked off the green in disgust.

She bogeyed. She was mad.

That was not the way she intended to end her round or the tournament for that matter. Harris also had no idea what that bogey had cost her team.

As Harris walked over to head coach Golda Borst with a look of disappointment, Borst had to alert her unsuspecting and somewhat oblivious freshman about what she had just done.

"Sarah, do you know you just did?" Borst asked.

"No," Harris responded, aware of nothing other than the fact she had just ended her round on a sour note.

"You might have had the highest (SEC Championships) finish out of any Kentucky women's golfer," Borst informed her unassuming freshman. "Do you know how big this?"

That quickly changed Harris' perspective on her tournament.

With her final score of 9-over-par, Harris had earned her best collegiate finish with a second place at the SEC Championships as she led the Kentucky women's golf team to its best finish at SECs in 20 years: a tie for fifth place with Mississippi State at 58-over par.

So why then did Harris have no idea where she was on the leaderboard? Well, it goes back to before Kentucky competed at Ole Miss and had its best showing of the spring with a fifth-place finish at the M&F Bank Rebel Intercollegiate.

The Wildcats struggling for much of the spring, fighting weather conditions back home, having trouble translating the work they put in into tournament play and frankly unable to get out of their own way.

 
The Wildcats faced a great deal of adversity. They learned from it. They are better for it.

"We had to go through those tough times in the fall and then the spring to figure out that we're stronger," said Borst. "We've gotten mentally tougher. I saw that this tournament. They did better with their toughness."

Before the Cats went to Ole Miss, they gathered around and decided something had to change. What they were doing wasn't up to their own standards. So each of them - without the influence of the coaching staff - decided that instead of playing for one another or playing for their coaches, family, friends, or any other outside distractions, that they would play for themselves.

"When we all sat down, we decided we were letting the outside things distract us," said Harris. "We all sat down and took it back to, 'I need to be playing for me.' I need to go out there and figure out what I need to do to play good golf. When I'm playing well, it contributes to the team. When we all do what we need to play well, it all adds up."

It's not selfish, but it's a fact. Golf wasn't designed to be a team sport, even though Kentucky might be one of the most tight-knit collegiate teams on the circuit. Kentucky actually might have been too close of a team and put too much pressure on itself to perform for one another.

So they separated, at least mentally, from that idea and started focusing on their individual selves and doing their own part, trusting that everyone would do the same and stay focused on the moment.

Harris on her final round, on her final hole, on her final shot, was focused on the moment. She didn't even know how to process what she had just accomplished.

That's also Harris' M.O. She's humble and modest. She doesn't expect things. She goes out with an open mind and plays with what the day gives her.

When Borst asked her freshman what her goal was for the SEC Championships, Harris simply hoped to place in the top half of the field. And then she finished second.

She simply didn't know how good she really was. She probably has a better idea of that now.

"I expected her to be a solid player for me this year. I really did," said Borst. "It's one of those where you knew she'd be in the lineup, but she didn't know because she doesn't know how good she is. I think she slowly but surely is realizing that."

Harris is quick to give credit to the turnaround of her season and the season as a whole to their four seniors who have done much of the grunt work while Harris and fellow freshman Cylia Damerau are simply expected to pick up where the seniors have left off.  Where most seniors wouldn't necessarily be receptive to freshmen coming in and contributing immediately, this senior class has welcomed the youngsters with open arms.

Because of that, UK is peaking at just the right time as the Wildcats await word on where they will head for NCAA Regionals during the Division I NCAA Women's Golf Selection Show on Monday, April 29.

"The upperclassmen are such a wealth of information," said Harris. "Whenever we have questions or need help with something, they're always there to lend a hand. They're so encouraging and it's just great.

"I hear a lot of stories on other teams where they say, 'Our seniors, they hate us,' or 'They hope we don't play.' They are always cheering us on and it's really fun."

Each senior brings something different to the table. Ashleigh Albrecht has been the most consistent player over the last few years and brings great veteran leadership on the course along with Betsie Johnson, while Megan Moir and Heather Lott and lone junior Liz Breed bring gobs of perspective about being good teammates, where this program has been, and where they want them to take it next.

"Each of them has taught me different things, but I've really learned about just enjoying the game," said Harris. "Not necessarily always taking it so seriously, but just enjoying being out there. I've really just learned a lot from them on how to enjoy my time as a student-athlete. They've been so encouraging."

The seniors have also taught the freshman about how Kentucky golfers are to handle themselves while on the golf course, which coincides with the seniors' message to Harris to enjoy the game and have fun. Borst and assistant coach Lucy Nunn have preached to their players since they arrived three years ago that there team would always carry themselves with class and play with a good attitude.

That message not only helps to represent the university in a positive light, but it also actually improves performance. And others have noticed.

On the second day of play at the SEC Championships - a day that's been notoriously troublesome for the Cats over the course of the season - Albrecht had just flown the green on a par three with a tough up and down in her future. Without hesitation, Albrecht stuck her club in her bag, walked with purpose to her ball, and took care of business and parred the hole.

That prompted Mississippi State head coach Ginger Brown-Lemm to walk over to Nunn.

"Lucy, your girls have such a great attitude. What do you do with them?" asked Brown-Lemm.

"We really emphasize playing with a great attitude," Nunn answered.

"Lucy, that saves shots," Brown-Lemm said.

That emphatic message is finally paying dividends.

"That's something that we've preached all year, because if we're going to do anything, we're going to do it with a good attitude," said Borst. "I don't like to see anything else on the golf course. Overall, I'm very happy and pleased and it shows we're going in the right direction."

Now, it's the freshmen helping those seniors advance and reach new heights as UK earned its best finish since before Harris and Damerau were even born. That's what these players set out to do when they decided to come to Kentucky. Now, the pieces are coming together and the entire team is making sure that the Wildcats end the 2013 season on a high note to send off their seniors the right way.

"When I made my decision to come to Kentucky, that's one of the things that drew me here," said Harris. "I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of rebuilding a program. We have such a great program, but we want to get back to where we were.

"Just the pride (the seniors) have in the program and the confidence they have in us. When we go to a tournament, it's always, 'We are Kentucky women's golf. We're here to play well.' It's really cool to watch."

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