April 5, 2012
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The light came on and everything came together for University of Iowa women's golfer Chelsea Harris leading into her final spring with the Hawkeyes in 2012. Now she's playing the best golf of her career.
"I told coach (UI head coach Megan Menzel) something clicked this semester, and I wish I would have realized it earlier," said Harris, the lone senior on the UI roster. "It is about taking it one shot at a time. It's so easy to say and you hear it all the time, but to implement it into your game and your approach is another thing.
"If you put all your effort into one shot and then walk up to that next one and do it again, the round goes by so much easier and faster. It's amazing how much the mental aspects can help your game. My mental game has been so much better this year and it has shown."
That approach has led to Harris posting three top-15 finishes during the spring season, which includes a runner-up showing at the Saluki Invitational on March 25-26 in Carbondale, Ill. She carded a four-over par 148 (72-76) in the 36-hole tournament to tally the best finish of her collegiate career.
"On paper, she has had a great spring, and she's had some of her best finishes, which has been really great to see," said Menzel. "Her attitude and approach to the game every single day has allowed her to be so consistent.
"She has grown in the mental aspects of the game. She goes out very calmly and approaches each shot one at a time, all the way through her putting. She's having a lot of confidence in herself and believing that she can play well."
Harris credits her grandfather and father with introducing her to the game. Her grandfather gave her a cut down set of his old clubs when she was four or five years old, and her dad signed her up for a "Hook a Kid on Golf" program, which resulted in her first set of TaylorMade irons.
Even though she started playing at a young age, Harris didn't know whether she wanted to play college basketball or golf when she was in the early stages of high school at Normal (Ill.) Community. After focusing mainly on basketball in junior high, she settled on golf.
"I was decent at golf and was decent at basketball too, so it was a toss-up," said Harris. "I didn't know if I wanted to play DII basketball or DI golf. I love golf so much -- it's my passion -- so I decided golf was the way to go."
Harris immediately stepped into the Iowa lineup as a freshman after leading the Pioneers to three state championships and being a three-time all-conference and a two-time most valuable player and conference champion.
She posted an 81.3 scoring average over 31 rounds in her first season, and that average has improved every year since. She posted a 77.6 average as a sophomore, a 77.1 mark as a junior and currently has a career-low 76.43 average over 23 rounds this season.
The key to Harris' improvement is the result of the work she put in around the greens.
"My short game has improved so much," she said. "I came here with a pretty good swing. I have always had a good swing, been a great ball-striker, but that only gets you so far in college golf. I really needed to crack down on my short game.
"My wedges are a lot better. I can always expect a birdie opportunity inside 120 yards, and now I am confident enough that I can make that putt."
One of the reasons that Harris' confidence with her putter has risen can be traced back to her recent move to the belly putter.
"I switched to a long putter last year, and aside from all the jokes and comments that I get, it has been a good asset to my bag," said Harris.
Harris has been a valuable piece to Menzel's rebuilding effort since the first-year coach took over in August. Harris is the only senior on a seven-player squad that includes four underclassmen.
"Her no-nonsense approach to things has been really good," said Menzel. "She's great at setting a good tone every day and is not afraid to lead by example. She also has a strong attitude and reminds us what are goals are day-in and day-out."
Harris says she tries to provide an example for her teammates to follow.
"I try to lead by example, work hard and play as well as I can to try to better the program," she said. "I hope everyone goes at it the same way I do and tries to give 100 percent every day, one and off the golf course."
Harris hopes that the Hawkeyes can put it all together over the final month of the season, and after she graduates in May with a degree in recreation management she has her sights set on qualifying school and playing on the Futures Tour.
"I want to leave this season feeling good about my career," said Harris. "I would love to make it to NCAA regionals, so I hope we can come together these last few tournaments and make it happen. I want to leave here and feel like I did something positive for the program and made an impact on the underclassmen.
Menzel is fortunate to have the opportunity to have a senior like Harris during her first season with the Hawkeyes.
"Chelsea has continued to get better, and she'll leave here as one of the strongest players in Iowa women's golf history," she said. "I can learn a lot from her as a coach, and hopefully, she's been able to learn from me as well. I am excited that she has been having such a successful senior season, and it will do a lot for us in the future."