The day before Hannah Walker played in the Peach Belt Conference women’s golf tournament in St. Augustine, Florida, this past April, she attended a dinner with all the conference teams. The Young Harris College freshman wasn’t accustomed to such things. Perhaps this was just a perk of being a college athlete, she thought.
That was until Walker saw the machinations begin for announcing awards. Officials started with senior academic awards, at which point Walker turned to one of her teammates, who explained the real intent of the evening. There were more awards, she told her, like Player of the Year. That went to the University of Montevallo’s Arin Eddy.
And Freshman of the Year – that went to Walker.
“I just thought we were going to eat dinner with all the conference (schools), and it was just going to be a nice dinner,” Walker said. “I didn’t know there were going to be awards or anything. So it was a complete surprise to me.”
It shouldn’t have been. The former Forsyth Central standout was not just the top freshman in the conference but one of the top golfers overall this past season.
Walker quickly emerged as one of Young Harris’ linchpin golfers, finishing in the top 5 three times, twice being named conference Player of the Week and notching her first tournament victory. Walker’s stroke average of 76.44 was eighth-best in the conference.
That breakout season, too, came as a surprise to Walker.
“I had lower expectations for myself than I think others did,” Walker said.
Walker didn’t put much urgency in to her play at the beginning, though she resolved to put in the work, particularly with her short game. Walker noticed marked improvements in that area, especially in her play from bunkers.
But Walker noticed her biggest development came on the mental side in how she was able to manage her emotions through the course of a round and tournament.
“It’s mainly controlling your emotions and your mindset when things don’t go the way you think they should be going,” Walker said, “and kind of trusting the work that you’ve put in to that point and knowing that one thing doesn’t define your overall work.”
That was tough at first. In Walker’s first tournament in the fall, the Full Moon BBQ Invitational in Alabama, she finished tied for 30th overall and was last on the team. The next tournament, she came in tied for 25th in the field and third on the team.
Walker had accomplished plenty in her time at Central. She had qualified for the state tournament three times and finished in the top 10 twice. She had won an individual region title her senior year. But Walker did it all alone; never in her four years at Central did she have a teammate.
The team dynamic intrigued Walker.
“I thought it was interesting how we all have our individual things that we’re working on, but the goal is to make the team better,” Walker said.
The team dynamic also provided Walker with her mental breakthrough: she found that as she focused less on her own scores and more on the team, her results improved.
In her third tournament, Walker tied for second overall and led Young Harris. From then on, she never finished worse than second on the team in any tournament.
She got her second top 5 finish at the Armstrong State Pirate Women’s Invitational in March. She got her first collegiate win with a season-low 72 at the UWG Wolf Golf Invitational in early April despite storms, including a tornado, wiping out the first day.
“Throughout the whole day, I feel like my mentality and temperament was really steady, just being patient all day.”
The auspicious start to her career has Walker recalibrating her expectations for the rest of her career. Now, she’s dreaming of helping Young Harris reach an NCAA Super Regional and winning Player of the Year, all while pursuing a degree in environmental science with a minor in either business or Spanish.
And if she does reach those goals, she won’t be so surprised.