FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – Golf is a tough, tough sport. For any novice that has been to a driving range or gone mini-putting, you have first-hand experience with the difficulty of hitting a ball straight or tapping in a two-footer only to have it rim out.
There is no denying the physical difficulties of the game, but for Northern Arizona University's Loren Skibba, it's the mental pressures that have an even larger effect on the success or failure of a golfer.
"Like 99 percent," Skibba declares, discussing the balance between the physical and mental aspects of golf. "Realistically, it's probably 75/25 in favor of the mental aspect. But to me, it seems closer to 99."
Don't let her fool you, though. Skibba, a true freshman from Wisconsin, moved out to the Mountain Town knowing full well what she was getting into. After all, she might experience frustration while out on the golf course, but her fondness for the game and the opportunities it has provided her do not go unnoticed.
"I am passionate about golf, but it certainly has gotten more difficult to 'love it,'" confesses Skibba. "It has its challenges, but it brought me to Arizona and to NAU, so it's still something I really appreciate. I'm committed to working hard at it for the next four years. I just have to realize that there's going to be bumps in the road and accept the lessons that come from them."
Part of that lesson is learning how to deal with your attitude 'in-round,' meaning the thoughts you have and the way you control them while you play has a direct impact on your behavior and subsequently, your results. Skibba confides that there are moments where she might not feel like she's on her "A" game mentally, but her eventual score is not all that bad.
That's where her concentration has been her freshman season: learning to recognize the bad, dismissing it, and replacing it with positive, reinforcing thoughts.
"I'm just focusing on what makes me a good athlete and golfer, and also understanding that I'm here for a reason," says Skibba. "I didn't just fall into this place because I got lucky. With that in mind, there's no reason I shouldn't be confident in my abilities on the course, but it's an everyday process that I'm still working on."
So far very early into her Lumberjack career, Skibba is averaging an 81.78 scoring average and is most recently coming off a 51st place finish at NAU's host tournament: the Red Rocks Invitational.
While some will attribute the slow start to the culture shock of moving halfway across the country and competing in the high-pressure reality of college sports, Skibba is not the type of person to make excuses. She's a hard-working individual with an unrelenting dedication to improving her game and herself each and every day.
Her unparalleled sense of accountability and commitment is fueled even further by the type of golf program NAU has.
"I think NAU has been the right choice for me so far," say Skibba, with an enthusiastic resolve. "I personally love this school, the environment, the mountains…everything. Plus, I love our team. We have a great chemistry, and the opportunity to be on this team has allowed me to travel to a lot of cool places. I love the student-athlete vibe in Flagstaff, and I think I've been able to fit in nicely here."
It's true. Whether you see her on campus or on the golf course, she reflects a certain kind of happiness that is both authentic and contagious. According to Skibba, while the game itself plays a role in that happiness, it has a lot more to do with the kind of team and culture the program emulates.
"We're all really close," Skibba says through a smile. "Like, for my birthday, they took me out to dinner, and we also made gingerbread houses at Christmas time. It's just small stuff like that; the things you don't have to do with your team, but what we want to do and decide to do together."
"I definitely think that chemistry spills over onto the golf course. We all trust each other and we're all doing things that help build each other up. We're not just teammates…we're friend as well."
That kind of continuity and friendship among teammates is attributable to the coaches who recruit these athletes in the first place. Lumberjack Head Coach Brad Bedortha, with the always helpful support from Graduate Assistant Coach Langley Vannoy, have done an incredible job recruiting not just specular golfers, but even better people.
Skibba's personality and physical skillset mirrors that sentiment, and in turn, the balance the NAU coaches bring to the table has been integral in her developmental process.
"Coach Bedortha," Skibba says, "has been a big influence for me and on my golf game. He makes me feel confident on the course, while Coach Vannoy is there filling that big sister role. It's a good dynamic because I'll go to Coach Bedortha for advice on my golf game and then I'll talk to Coach Vannoy for support and positive reinforcement. They both help me out in different ways, and they balance each other out."
It's this very dynamic that has Skibba reconsidering her attitude on the course and, in turn, playing more confidently and with much more poise. After all, her No. 1 goal this season, according to her, has been to let go of inhibitions and mental barriers and play more like she did during high school career: fearlessly.
"I don't want to have fear out on the course," says Skibba. "That's how my teammate Kim Cifuentes plays, and I really like that about her. I just want to go back to playing that way, and I think I'm on the right track."
For a team whose mantra this season is "Daring Greatly," Skibba has taken it to heart and is mirroring that persona more and more each day.