RICHMOND, Va. -- In her 15-plus years as head coach of the St. Catherine's High School golf team, Janet Phillips has used the game to teach her athletes more than just pounding the ball off the tee and figuring out which way a putt will break toward the hole.
"We try to work on the attributes that golf brings to life," Phillips said. "Perseverance, dedication, honesty, individual practice time, working on specific skills."
Golf is an individual sport and the idea of you against the course helps to eliminate pointed fingers, unless they happen to be pointing back at the player in question.
"It just means don't worry about the competition, focus on your own game," St. Catherine's golfer Emma Dixon said. "Don't beat yourself up about it. Sometimes it can be the course's fault as well."
"You can never be perfect at it," St. Catherine's golfer Grace Anne Haggerty added. " I feel like there's always room for improvement. Even if you have a really good round, there's always one more putt you could have made."
When the COVID-19 pandemic brought almost all sports to a stop three years ago, golf endured.
Being an outdoor sport that did not require any teammates made it perfect for fresh air and social distancing.
Many of the girls on this year's Saints team began playing steadily when they couldn't do much else.
"Sometimes it's a little difficult being all by yourself out there, and your closest friend being 100 yards in the next fairway," Dixon said. "It's really good to focus, and when we're out playing our opponents, we're out there by ourselves, focusing on our game."
"The girls just want to play," Haggerty said. "We have a really good team, everybody is friends and we just have a really good environment. People want to play."
St. Catherine's team is 18 girls strong, but one of just two private school girls' teams in the Richmond area.
The team finished their season with a 12-4 record, playing mostly against boys' teams.
"I remember early on in my career, I called a school and asked if we could play them. They said what do I do if my boys get beat by your girls? I said well tell your boys to practice more," Coach Phillips said. "I think they were worried about being embarrassed. It actually seems to go the other way, the guys are more embarrassed when the girls beat them."
Haggerty admitted she sometimes felt a little bit bad for the teams they've beaten while Dixon recognized an advantage playing against boys' teams.
"Sometimes it's nice because you can watch them tee off first," she said. "They tee off farther behind, so we can see what's going on and where the fairway goes."
The girls do play from tees that are 15% closer to the green. But anyone who has ever played or watched golf knows that it's the final 100 yards of every hole where the majority of shots are played.
Winning does build confidence, but in this case, the Saints found confidence in what they did against the course and not necessarily against their opponents.
"The confidence comes with them making more pars, making more birdies. Shooting their personal best. It's the social interaction between the guys and the girls that I find has gotten stronger," Phillips said.
As more colleges sponsor women's golf at a varsity level, these Saints can continue their games to the next level.
"It's definitely an interesting path and one that would be fun. I'm excited to explore the future," Haggerty said.
"The growth of the game for women is fantastic," Phillips said. "It's probably the number one growing sport for women at that level. The game looks promising for the future."
While the Saints finished their season 12-4, the team still ranked 8th in the state among nine division one golf programs. As such, the Saints were not selected for the state tournament.
Grace Anne Haggerty finished sixth in the individual scoring and her teammate Anna Sleeker finished eighth.
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