Photos by Hillary Ehlen
Senior golfer Emma Groom remains locked in while playing in the most unlikely of golf locations.
There are plenty of forces working against North Dakota State golf. First, the weather, with what seems like nine months of winter, golfers are forced indoors almost year-round. The Bison golfers did not have an outdoor practice until after they captured the Summit League Conference crown last year. Second, the travel: they never play a tournament in Fargo. In fact, they rarely play courses within several hundred miles of North Dakota. There is no shortage of excuses that could be made.
Emma Groom and NDSU golf do not make excuses; they execute. There is no better evidence than their conference championship a year ago.
Groom, a senior from Eden Prairie, Minnesota, shined in what was her junior season in 2017-18. She ranked third on the Bison roster in stroke average last season, which was 11th best in the Summit League. She carried over that strong performance into the 2018 fall slate for the Bison. She finished in the top 15 in three of the Bison’s four tournaments. Groom was also a top-five finisher twice, placing third at the Omaha Invitational and second at Battle at Old Works.
Success in the game of golf has a lot to do with mindset. How do you mentally handle yourself for a full 18-hole round? For most, it ends in shattered putters, curse words and plenty of balls in the drink. As for Groom, the mental facet of her game could not be stronger in principle and practice.
“Mentally one of the biggest things is just to stay in the moment and never get ahead of yourself. I like to try and focus on one shot at a time,” she said. “When I get to a hole, I’m not thinking about the previous hole or the shot I had. I’m just thinking about the one shot I have and stay in the moment. You can’t control what’s going to happen necessarily, so keeping a level head is important too.”
Much of Groom’s ascension as a golfer has to do with coach Matt Johnson. She says Johnson saw plenty of potential in her as a player and was willing to take a chance. That belief alone pushed her to new heights. “Coming in as a freshman, I wasn’t necessarily fully developed as a golfer, but he believed in me and saw a lot of potential. He helped me to get there both with a few physical things in my swing, but then also the biggest thing is the mental game,” she said. “He really helped with the way I approach golf. Him believing in me is another thing; you always do well when a head coach or a role model believes in you.”
However, Johnson was not the only source of inspiration and guidance. Only one year younger, Groom relied heavily on the now-graduated Natalie Roth. Roth, a three-time Summit League first team selection, also won the conference’s Women’s Golfer of the Year award last season. Aside from Amy Anderson, Roth is perhaps the best women’s golfer in school history. She has since moved into the professional ranks. With that level of talent in the class above her, Groom looked up to Roth in several aspects. “She was always very consistent, which I always admired. Every golfer wants to be consistent, and she was really good at that, always able to post those low numbers and rarely had those high rounds,” she said. “Her mental approach was very strong, that was always something that I looked up to and her confidence in her game and the rest of the team was always strong.”
Confidence in her team, as Groom describes, is something she wants to adopt heading into her final spring in Fargo. Groom is the only senior on the roster, but with three juniors and sophomores, she knows the girls on the team well. While it can be hard to be a “leader” in an individual sport like golf, Groom has found some ways.
“For golf, it’s a very individual sport. Sometimes it’s lonely out there because you can’t walk with your teammates. We do hand signals and everything, which is kind of nice because we have these little things that kind of bring us together. We play back to back, but we’re not in the same group, but if someone makes a birdie, we can throw up the horns and what not,” she said. “As far as the leadership thing, I try to be a leader by encouraging and leading by example. Everyone on our team is pretty much alike. We get along really well so our team vibe is really good. We know we all want to do our best and if we do that, we can be a really good team together. Even though golf is a pretty individual sport, I think our team does a good job of knowing if we push ourselves and each other to do our best, we can do well as a team.”
Another obstacle golfers face, as alluded to, is the travel. In order to compete in the fall and spring, they have to travel to faraway venues. Much of this is due to the poor playing conditions in Fargo, especially during the wintertime. While Groom had an adjustment phase with the travel, she finds the tools offered to her by NDSU athletics to be incredibly helpful. “Coming in as a freshman, it was pretty overwhelming because you come from high school where it’s demanding, but not that demanding. Then you get to college and you’re traveling and practicing and trying to learn all these new things and you’re in a whole new city. It’s definitely difficult at first; I was probably more stressed with that my freshman year,” she said. “The athletic program gives you so many options to help you study or talk to an advisor or just even setting up all your classes. They basically help me organize things and then I also started writing lists of things I need to get done before we travel. Time management is a huge thing I’ve learned here at NDSU because when you travel, it’s difficult. You have to talk to your teachers and create those good relationships so they know that I’ll be gone, but that I do care about this class.”
“When I get to a hole, I’m not thinking about the previous hole or the shot I had. I’m just thinking about the one shot I have and stay in the moment.” – Emma Groom
Despite the travel and having to practice inside, Groom has still been successful as an individual. Not only that, but the Bison women had a very successful fall as a team. They finished in the top three in three of their four fall tournaments. Meaning that the team has plenty of momentum heading into their first tournament in February. Groom and her teammates have their sights set on another Summit League title.
“I want to make little improvements every day, get better every day. I think my biggest goal for the team would be to win conference again. That’s a big goal and not an easy task; it wasn’t last year, but we did it,” she said. “Our team has so many solid individuals and when each individual plays well, we can be a solid team. I think really trying to step up as that senior and encourage everyone and play my best and see where that takes us. It would be really cool to win conference again because we have the talent to do it; we just need to come together and do it.”
With all the factors pushing against North Dakota State golf, the question remains, “Why NDSU?” Why would a student-athlete want to come to Fargo to golf? It seems relatively backward in some respects. Groom has a multitude of reasons that do not involve individual glory. “The biggest thing is the people and the environment. I had heard so many good things from family friends or people that had already gone to NDSU. When I did come to visit, there were such good relationships with the coach and the teammates that were already there and my teammates now,” she said. “Obviously, the weather isn’t ideal for golf, but we do get to travel to warm places which is fun. The people, it’s such an inviting environment.”
Mother Nature may work against Bison golf in many respects. However, North Dakota State women’s golf does not care. Emma Groom does not care. They both have seen tremendous success on the golf course. In the most unlikely of golf locales, there is an evergrowing fervor for the game. Emma Groom and the Bison golfers are moving the program forward because of that passion to play