By Kyle Coulter, UD Athletics Multimedia Student

“If before the round, you told me that that’s what I would shoot, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

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Saturday Night, April 19. Andi Slane sits in bed with a book nestled between her hands. She flips through a few more pages and then calls it a night. She needs her sleep. As her eyes begin to close, her mind still lingers on the message from the page she happened to randomly select.

Andi is a redshirt junior, and a captain on the University of Delaware women’s golf team. A thin blonde with an athletic frame and an infectious smile, Andi has played hundreds of rounds of golf in her lifetime. While she fell into a deep sleep that night in her host’s house in Southport, North Carolina, she had no idea that she would go out the next day and shoot her best round ever.

The book Andi was reading that night was Fearless Golf, by sports psychologist Dr. Gio Valiante. Much like the title suggests, the book aims to teach golfers how to play without fear, and how to master one’s mind while on the course. According to Andi, she was haphazardly skimming through pages when she came across an anecdote that caught her attention. It was about a professional golfer who had the unenviable task of playing alongside Tiger Woods on the final day of a tournament. Back when Woods was winning majors like they were mini-golf tournaments, those who played alongside him would wilt and fall away like the azaleas at Augusta after a long hot summer.

This particular golfer was so fixated on Woods that he forgot who his real nemesis was: the course. He let his fear get the best of him and ended up falling out of contention.

Andi sympathized with this poor casualty. She knew that she was going to be thrust into a similar situation the next day, at the final round of the CAA Championships.

She woke up Sunday morning in a very calm state. This collectedness had stayed with Andi throughout the tournament, which was strange considering she usually lets her neurosis overtake the serenity before a round.

The rest of the team piled into the kitchen of their host family’s house and enjoyed a spread of eggs, bacon, biscuits and muffins, which the family had kindly prepared for them early that morning. The Blue Hens as a team sat in third place out of eight, with a comfortable lead over Hofstra but a ten stroke deficit to the leader, and reigning champion, College of Charleston.

The tournament was held on the St. James Plantation Reserve Course in Southport, a course that puts a premium on hitting accurately off the tee and punishes those who don’t, with long fescue and dangerous hazards lining narrow fairways.

Andi and the rest of the team went out to the practice range before the round and hit some balls, and putted. Andi admitted, with a laugh, that she did not hit well at all.

With the message of the beleaguered golfer from the story still fresh in her mind, Andi knew she had to simply play the course, and not worry about the talent that surrounded her.

Andi was grouped with the other two top golfers in the tournament, Heather Munro from Elon and Mary Chandler Bryan from College of Charleston. Munro was a freshman standout for the Phoenix who had represented her home country of Scotland in multiple international tournaments. The freckled redhead took the lead from Andi the day prior and held a one shot advantage going into the final round.

Bryan was two shots behind Andi, and was looking to avenge her twelfth place finish from the year prior. In 2014, Bryan watched as her two teammates captured first and second place and helped the Cougars win their first CAA championship. One of those teammates, Laura Fuenfstueck, was lurking just five shots back of Andi. Fuenfstueck was the defending champion and reigning Rookie of the Year.

According to Andi, these three golfers were capable of shooting incredibly low scores on any given day.

On this day in North Carolina, the sun was choked out by a thick layer of clouds. A slight wind gave little relief from the high humidity, and a threatening thunderstorm pushed the start time of the round up an hour.

Prior to this tournament, Andi had only shot one round under par in her collegiate career. She doubled that number with back to back one-under rounds in the previous two days.

As Andi stood on the first tee box, a light rain was falling, slowly darkening her bright blue collared shirt and trickling down the four leaf clover pin on her white hat. She was ready.

Two birdies on the first two holes caught Andi by surprise. She sunk two long puts and took a one shot lead over Munro, who parred both holes.

These two matched each other shot for shot until the sixth and seventh holes, when Munro fell victim to the narrow fairways and bogeyed both. Andi took advantage and went birdie/par, extending her lead to five.

“At this point I’m not even playing her,” Andi said. “I’m just trying to shoot as low as I can.”

Both went on to bogey 8; however Andi was not slighted.

“It was a big confidence boost to make a 10-footer for bogey,” Andi said. “Now I’m just thinking to myself ‘Okay I need a birdie’…so I birdied 9.”

For golfers, going bogey/birdie is much like a quarterback leading a touchdown drive after throwing an interception. It’s the mark of greatness, and fearlessness. And just like John Elway had “The Drive,” Andi Slane was about to have “The Back Nine.”

According to Andi, after the three golfers made the turn, Munro became silent and intently focused. This was a drastic change from the previous nine holes.

“We had all been talking the whole time and playing well,” Andi said. “Seeing her change to being quiet, you can’t do that. If you are talking and positive on the front nine you need to be that way for the whole round, or else things are going to change.”

Andi extended her lead on Munro and Bryan after the first four holes on the back nine, but she still had no idea if anyone else behind her was shooting well. She admitted that Fuenfstueck, the defending CAA champion, was in the back of her mind; however she never asked anyone to check her scores. Andi even asked her coaches to stay away from her if she was playing well. They respected her wishes.

For the next three holes, Andi kept telling herself the same thing: “Stay on the fairways, hit the green. Stay on the fairways, hit the green.” When she stepped up to the 17th hole she was three under for the round. This was a statistic she tried not to think about, but it was insidious.

The 17th hole is a 513-yard par five. Andi stepped up with the wind at her back and crushed a 290-yard drive. She had yet to try to reach this green in two shots; however, she felt that if she could get a birdie, then she could just cruise on 18. So she reached into her bag and pulled out a club she had not used so far in the tournament, her 3 wood.

The first line in Fearless Golf is a quote from the great Jack Nicklaus, “fear of any kind is the number one enemy of all golfers, regardless of ball-striking and shot-making capabilities. [Fear] happened to me before my early success enabled me to control my fear.”

The irony in this being that Nicklaus helped design the very course that Andi was about to conquer with this fearless swing.

She cracked a shot that carried a set of bunkers and landed about 10 yards shy of the green.

In order to get good height on this chip, Andi grabbed her 56 degree wedge, which has a more open face and allows her to get under the ball easier. Her goal was simple, “just don’t chunk it.”

After standing over the ball for over 10 seconds, debating how to avoid the sprinkler heads that were in her way, Andi bent her knees and took a half swing that sent the ball flying towards the pin. It took one hop on the green and then disappeared. Into the cup.

Eagle.

The crowd that had gathered around the 17th green erupted into applause for the redshirt junior who was four shots away from breaking multiple CAA records.

“The videographer was out there, the photographer was out there, so I thought, ‘Either College of Charleston is really going low. Or I’m winning this thing,’” Andi said.

It was the latter. 

Andi parred the 18th hole to finish with a five-under round of 67, the lowest single round score in CAA tournament history. Her combined score of 209 was also a CAA record, beating the previous top score by eight strokes, the same number of shots she finished ahead of the nearest competitor. Andi did not learn about any of this information until she got off the course.

“I had no clue. When I came up to my assistant coach I was like ‘did I do it?’ and he was like ‘yeah!’ So then I asked, ‘by a lot?’ and he was like, ‘Oh yeah!’”

Andi returned to Delaware with a trophy, which is now sitting on her dresser, and a sense of fulfillment that she has been working towards since the first time she picked up a golf club. 

“Everyone always knew I wanted to do it and that I could do it, and now I’ve showed them,” Andi said. “You worked hard for it, and now…you did it. I did it.”