Maybe it was Isabella Skinner’s precocious start to her high school career, pairing with an upperclassman to help West Forsyth girls’ golf team finish second at the state championship in 2011. Perhaps it was the attention of Division I programs like Georgia and North Carolina. Most likely it was the string of successful seasons on the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour when she won six events in two years.
At some point, Skinner became a golfer who had to be perfect. On every shot of every round, she heaped pressure on herself. It piled on every time she didn’t shoot well enough or score low enough or play like the golfer who eventually signed with Georgia this past fall.
“She’s very competitive,” said Chan Reeves, director of instruction at the Atlanta Athletic Club and Skinner’s private instructor. “Some people are so competitive that it keeps them from being able to relax and play golf.”
But at this stage of her high school career, as a senior with her college future assured, Skinner has felt different. Indeed, her last two rounds of 3-under and 1-under have been proof, she says.
“I realize that the more I try to control my outcome and the results of that day and my score,” Skinner said, “it doesn’t go well. What happens is I get in my own way. Just allowing golf to be golf and the bad shots and good shots and not trying to control it and overthink it.”
Skinner hopes that is what it will take for her to help get the Lady Wolverines’ team to state after a two-year absence and, more personally, win an individual state title.
“I have felt much calmer and played much more at east,” Skinner said. “I think that’s allowed me to play much more to my capability.”
There was no precedent for Skinner in her family. No one played golf. Only her dad, who took up the sport after playing football at the University of Wyoming.
He was playing a lot when Skinner was born. A few years later, her younger brother was born, and mom gave dad a mandate.
“She was like, ‘You’re not leaving me with both kids. You’ve got to take your daughter,’” Skinner said.
Dad complied. At first, Skinner just rode along on his rounds. Eventually he bought her an airport club.
Her first shot was short but straight down the center of her backyard. She was 5 years old or so, Skinner recalls, hitting apples at her family’s home in Salt Lake City.
Soon she was practicing with dad and entering little tournaments in Utah that she automatically won as the only girls’ participant.
“It kind of was that confidence boost,” Skinner said, “and so I stuck with it. I loved it, and I loved qualifying for certain things.”
Then Skinner and her family moved to Georgia when she was 9. She was in the South now, a region loaded with young golf talent. Coming from Utah, expectations were low.
Until Skinner entered her first tournament, an Atlanta Junior golf event in the intermediate open division, and won.
“We weren’t expecting that with it being Georgia,” Skinner said, “because there were so many girls.”
Skinner gradually ascended the youth golf ranks and made an immediate impact at West. She helped the team finish runner-up her freshman season. She qualified individually as a sophomore and finished third with a 73.
Last season, Skinner missed the state tournament by two strokes at regionals. The internal pressure she put on herself was severe.
That’s behind her now, Skinner says. She’s older, calmer, able to put bad shots behind her and maintain her focus. She’s worked with Reeves to be ready by August 1, when she reports to Georgia and starts her college career.
But in the meantime, Skinner is focused on last milestone of her high school career.
“Once I get to state,” Skinner said, “my goal is to win it.”