Golfers can spend countless hours at the driving range or on the practice green honing their skills, but sometimes there's no substitute for live play.
Especially when players are working on aspects of their games that just can't be simulated.
That has been the case for recent Spring Grove High School graduate Victoria Ross.
In an effort to best prepare herself for the challenges that lie ahead as a member of the Limestone College (South Carolina) women's golf team this fall, Ross has taken a different approach to help strengthen her game for collegiate play.
This summer, Ross bypassed playing in the York County Junior Golf Association Girls' Division, instead opting to compete in the 15-18 Boys' White Division.
She chose the division mainly for the yardages played, since they were the closest to those that she will face at the next level.
At Limestone, Ross' coach estimates the courses she'll play will be in the 6,000-6,200 yard range. The problem for Ross locally was that most area courses struggle to reach 5,800 yards from the red (or forward) tees that women typically use.
"It wouldn't help me prepare for college while playing the red tees," Ross said. "If I would have had one more year, I think I would have played the blues (tees) to really test my skill."
Another benefit is the level of competition gained by going against her male counterparts and the competitive pressure that can provide.
However, this form of preparation is nothing new to Ross, who has competed in York-Adams League play against male competition because of a lack of a female division since her freshman year. She would, however, compete against female players once postseason play began. Ross is a three-time York-Adams League girls' champion and lost out on a District 3 Class AAA girls' title in a historic five-hole playoff to future Limestone teammate Allison Cooper of Central Dauphin.
Favorable results: The plan has produced very favorable results this summer, as well. In fact, Ross was victorious in the White Division during the YCJGA's stop at Heritage Hills on June 30.
In five of the six YCJGA tournaments she participated in, Ross posted a top-10 finish in each. One of those finishes was a runner-up, when she was just one shot off the lead on July 6 at Hanover Country Club.
"I don't get nervous when I play golf with the boys, because that's what I grew up with," Ross said.
There's been a male influence to Ross' game from the start.
She first learned the sport by hitting golf balls in her grandfather's backyard. Through the advice of her father and grandfather, Ross' game eventually reached a point where she felt ready for a real course.
Her first competitive tournament didn't come until her freshman year of high school. She didn't go head-to-head with female competition until the York-Adams championships at the end of her freshman season.
Boys have treated her well: Ross' reception in the male ranks has been a good one. She says most of her opponents are impressed by her play.
Also impressed were her teammates at Spring Grove, where Ross, the only female on the team, was even voted team captain during her senior season.
"Every single one of those boys are like brothers to me," Ross said of her Rockets' teammates. "They all support me throughout the entire season, including postseason.
"They never have the mentality of 'I can't lose to a girl.' If I would happen to beat them that day, they congratulate me. They are proud of me and they know I would do the same for them."
Aside from learning to manage the pressure of increased competition, Ross is also fine-tuning the mental aspect of her game by learning to manage the pressure she places upon herself.
She says her new mentality has been a strength in a season that hasn't otherwise lived up to her own expectations.
"I was always the kind of person that if I had a double bogey or anything higher than that, my round was over. I would lose all of my confidence, even after just one hole," she said.
At times, playing with the boys has also served her well through observation. She says she notices when another player's game is falling apart because of their mentality and it serves as a reminder for her to avoid the trappings of her old thought patterns.
"I try to keep the mentality of 'I got this shot in my bag, I know I can hit this shot and either stick it close on the green or knock a putt in,'" Ross said. "I just worry about one shot at a time."
All of those methods helped Ross drop her average from 95 as a freshman, to 87 the next season, to 82 in her junior year, to 76 this past season.
One drawback: Taking the harder route competitively did come with one drawback for Ross. Her participation in the White Division kept her from competing in the Girls' Division. As a result, she was unable to qualify for the girls' match play event. The only boys' match play event offered is in the 15-18 Blue Division.
But there might be one last YCJGA event before Ross heads for collegiate play in South Carolina. The YCJGA will announce its Junior War of the Roses team on Aug. 6 at the league's awards banquet.
— Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org