April 21, 2014
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 8, 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 2013-14 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.
By JAMES ALLAN
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa? No way, of course.
The University of Iowa wasn't going to be an option for junior women's golfer Shelby Phillips. Sure, she had ties to the state, but after growing up in Gilbert, Ariz., she wasn't about to trade the Arizona sunshine for the unpredictability of the Midwest.
But things changed.
"My mom's side of the family is from Mount Pleasant (Iowa), but I was like, I am not going to Iowa," said Phillips. "It's the Midwest, I don't belong there. I was at a tournament as a junior and the (Iowa) coaches came and watched me play. I liked the coaches, and I fell in love with the school."
As a junior golfer, Phillips was exposed to an array of weather conditions when traveling the country for various tournaments. The prospects of honing her skills for four years in the elements became appealing.
"I wanted that wind and rain and all that difference rather than sunny and 75 degrees every day," she said.
After being the No. 2-ranked player in Arizona and the 56th-best prospect in the class of 2011, Phillips stepped into the Hawkeye lineup from day one. She played 21 tournaments in her first two seasons, posting a 78.21 scoring average over 31 rounds.
"Those first two years are hard, especially being from a different state," said Phillips. "It was hard adjusting, maturing, learning about yourself and about being on a team."
The experiences paid off.
"Any time she steps on the golf course, she has the ability to win the tournament. It is a matter of her believing that."
After a summer in Arizona, Phillips posted the best round of her career in her first tournament as a UI junior -- the Chip-N-Club Invitational in Lincoln, Neb. Phillips sat at 9-over par (153) through her first two rounds before firing a career-best 67 (-5) over her final 18 holes to tie for fifth place. It was the best showing of her Hawkeye career.
"It was easy that day," recalled Phillips. "I went out and started making some putts. It was a hard course; I had played it the day before and struggled. I stayed patient and had fun. It was the first time in a while I really enjoyed myself on the golf course.
"I was smiling and my coach came up and said 'Your body language is amazing.' It was a feeling I can't explain."
UI head coach Megan Menzel says Phillips has developed into a more confident player through her first two seasons in Iowa City.
"She is a little more consistently confident," said Menzel. "She has always been a confident player, projects herself well, has her head up and loves to compete. She is believing in herself more, has leveled her emotions and that has been able to help her put together a more consistent year."
After tying for sixth place at the Fighting Camel Classic in the final fall tournament, Phillips delivered the most consistent stretch of her career, posting five rounds at 3-over par (72-73-71-73-72) at the Westbrook Invitational and Hurricane Invitational.
That consistent play can be attributed to Phillips' improved demeanor on the course.
"It is a lot of patience, self-motivation and cheering myself on," said Phillips. "I had a double (bogey) on one of those holes, and I was like, 'OK, that was interesting, let's try and make a couple of birdies,' and I did. I learned to be patient with myself and keep moving forward, stop looking at the past, and staying completely in the present."
The approach is paying dividends as Phillips has shaved nearly two strokes off her career scoring average in 2013-14. She has a 76.28 average over 29 rounds this season with three top-10 and four top-20 finishes.
"Shelby is one we're always pushing because she is one that is capable of leaving Iowa as one of the best players of all-time," said Menzel. "She knows that and continues to work hard, not only on the mental side, but physical side. We'll continue to see that (scoring average) drop even more."
Menzel believes Phillips can be an elite player.
"Any time she steps on the golf course, she has the ability to win the tournament," said Menzel. "It is a matter of her believing that. In golf there are a lot of parts to your game that have to be on, and hitting at the right time."
Every round Phillips plays inches her closer to reaching one of her goals.
"I want to win a tournament," said Phillips, who plans to turn professional after completing a degree in sociology and criminal justice in May 2015. "Hopefully we can win the Big Ten Championships and go to NCAA Regionals."
Menzel is glad Phillips decided to buck her first instinct and become a Hawkeye.
"I am proud of the way she has embraced her coaches here, that's tough when you get a new coach and I am glad I have had the treat to coach her," said Menzel. "It has been fun to watch her grow as a person. It has been a good fit, and it's neat to see she has been able to work on all parts of her game."
Iowa heads to French Lick, Ind., for the 2014 Big Ten Championships from April 25-27.