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THE GRIND: South Forsyth golfer Kelly Strickland playing with a new mentality
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THE GRIND: South Forsyth Golfer Kelly Strickland

Shot by Paul Dybas Edited by Paul Dybas

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Behind South Forsyth’s Kelly Strickland were 30 coaches from some of the top college golf programs in the country, but they weren’t at the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship last July to see her. They had come those two days in New Jersey to see Strickland’s playing partners.

One was the No. 1-ranked player on the Junior Golf Scoreboard. The other was the No. 1 sophomore recruit in the country. Relative to her playing partners, Strickland was nobody. It was her first appearance in the marquee event, and it was the first time that college coaches had followed her during a round, even if they just happened to be following her.

Strickland recognizes now that the whole thing got to her. “That was the first time I was actually nervous at a tournament,” Strickland said, and she played like it, tying for 150th.

It was a formative moment for Strickland. Out of those two days, surrounded by college golf’s best coaches, Strickland’s ambition to play after high school that started in seventh grade crystallized.

But more importantly, so did a new mentality.

“A lot of people will let good girls who are really high-ranked on the Junior Golf Scoreboard and are ranked nationally get in your head and feel like you’re less than them,” Strickland said, “but if you just imagine that you’re the best player then you’ll have confidence your whole round.”

Strickland wasn’t the best girls player in Forsyth County last season, but she was among the most competitive. She shot a 79 at the Region 6-6A championships to help South finish fourth and one stroke ahead of Northview for the final state tournament qualifying spot. Then she tied for 15th out of 69 competitors in Class 6A with four other golfers with an 83 at the state championship. South placed 10th.

After her influential summer, Strickland wants to average under 80 this season and shoot under 75 at the state championship in mid-May, so she’s set a regimen to help her get there. Five days a week, Strickland practices for over two hours and then plays as many as 18 holes. On Sundays, she has a swing lesson with her private coach, where they take video of her swing to analyze. From February to October, Strickland plays amateur events on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour, Southeastern Junior Golf Tour, Peggy Kirk Bell Golf Tour and AJGA.

That’s how Strickland will spend this coming summer, one she already knows will be the most important yet to her prospects for a college golf career.

Strickland isn’t fazed by the stakes.

“It’ll all just work out with how I play,” Strickland said.

She’s confident, to a degree she’s never been before thanks to those two disappointing days last July.

“Playing poorly in tournaments is just not fun for anybody,” Strickland said. “I just think about how I played at the U.S. Girls (Junior Championship) and how unconfident it made me and how it really made me take a step back in my game, and by practicing I’m only pushing forward, and I can’t really go back to that time.”

Indeed, Strickland put her new mentality to the test soon after the Junior Championship. A few weeks later, playing in the three-day Greg Norman Champions Golf Academy Junior Championship, Strickland shot 229 to tie for seventh. Later that month, she placed third in a two-day Hurricane Junior Golf Tour event.

Pretty good so far.

“After multiple tournaments of experience, now I feel like (the best),” Strickland said.