Shaler grad Miller aims to sharpen mental skills to reach potential with Carlow women’s golf

Sunday, May 22, 2022 | 9:01 AM

Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra once quipped that baseball “is 90% mental, and the other half is physical.”

Berra’s fuzzy math aside, his point is clear: Sports can be just as much about the mind as they are the body. Perhaps nowhere is this more applicable than in golf, where the toughest opponent players often face is themselves.

Shaler grad Emilee Miller can attest to this. Miller, who just completed her freshman golf season at Carlow, readily admits she too often starts to overthink things, and it can affect her game.

“I definitely need to work on my confidence when I’m playing,” she said. “My game can improve, but if I’m in my own head, it’s not.”

Celtics coach Ryan Shank agreed: Miller needs the mental toughness to complement her solid game. He raved about her ball-striking and her potential to eventually shoot consistently in the low-80s and even reach the upper-70s now and then.

She showed a flash of that in the fall during the United States Collegiate Athletic Association national tournament at Penn State. She opened with a personal-best 81 and was tied for first before shooting 85 in the second round and winding up third. (She tied for 51st overall in the field of 122, which included men and women.)

Additionally, during the regular season, she won or tied for first four times in dual matches.

Shank said Miller needs to trust those abilities.

“When she steps over the ball, she has to have a consistent belief that she can strike the ball,” he said. “She’s too nice on the golf course. She really just needs to have that — I don’t want to use the word ‘killer instinct’ — but she has to have the mindset that, ‘I’m going to play well the whole time I’m out here.’

“How about the word ‘swagger?’ When she steps on the course, she has to be a little bit arrogant about herself.”

Miller has played sports most of her life, primarily basketball. She caught onto golf a little later in her youth, playing with her father and younger brother at Wildwood Golf Club.

Playing with them proved beneficial when she got to the college level. She would play from the men’s tees — “I always feel bad making them walk up to the red (women’s tees),” she said with a laugh — so when she started playing longer courses in college, the distance didn’t bother her.

Her iron game also is strong. Most of the difficulty begins, she said, once she gets the flat stick in her hand.

“When I’m putting, I always get in my own head when I’m standing over the ball,” Miller said. “I’ll read my putt and then, at the last minute, I’ll say, ‘Nope. Read the wrong thing.’ And then I’ll miss a putt I should make.”

Shank said he has tried little games with Miller to help bolster her confidence. During the River States Conference championship last month, for instance, she opened the three-round event with a 92 then stumbled to a 99 in the second round.

After watching an up-and-down start to Miller’s final round, Shank decided it was time to give her a goal. He told her to break down the final six holes into two three-hole tournaments and try to beat her two playing partners on each.

“After holes 4, 5 and 6, I go up to her on the seventh tee and shake her hand,” Shank said. “She said, ‘What are you doing?’ And I told her, ‘Congratulations. You just won your three-hole tournament.’ Then on 7, 8 and 9, she did the same thing and I shook her hand again.

“She played those last six holes 2-over.”

Over an 18-hole match, that performance would be a 6-over 78 on most courses. That is the kind of number Shank and Miller believe is attainable down the road.

She said she plans to work harder than ever over the summer to prepare for the 2022 fall season.

“This spring, I was shooting in the low-90s more, and I want to be breaking 90,” she said. “I like the ‘8’ in front of the score better.”

Miller said she might even draw some inspiration from the pros. Though she doesn’t watch golf as religiously as her father or brother, Miller did pause to take in some of the Masters. She took particular note of Cameron Smith, who was in contention in the final round until he took a triple-bogey 6 on the 12th hole.

That was a light bulb moment for Miller. Even the best in the world mess up.

“It’s not nice to see, but it’s good to see people who are in the pros and know what they’re doing, even they have bad holes,” she said. “Just to see other people mess up like that, too, I know I can’t beat myself up too much.”

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