After a hiccup not atypical to athletes jumping from the high school to collegiate level, former Logan-Rogersville golfer Jacob Hefley is back to trimming his score and brimming with confidence.
A member of the 2017 Class 3 State Championship team, Hefley has sharpened his game in the heat, most recently at the Price Cutter Open Qualifier held on July 22 at the Millwood Golf & Racquet Club in Ozark. He shot a 7-over 78 there (the lowest qualifier score was a 68), and though he said it wasn’t exactly what he’d wanted, it was more than a worthwhile venture.
“It was just one of those things where the mentality going in was to go low,” Hefley said. “You really need to be around even on the front nine, and I think I was 2-over after that. I got going and par’d 10, then birdied 11 and 12 -- 12 was a par-5 and I missed an eagle putt -- so I kind of had a shot. You get 1-under, then 2 or 3 and you’re right there, but the short par-4 on 13 is where I made a big mistake. I had a big number on it and from there on I kind of stumbled and made a couple bogies, but it was good experience.”
While it was his last of the summer, Hefley has continued to round his game in the months that led up to it closer to where he wants it with a variety of other recent events, including a USGA Amateur Qualifier in Kansas City and the Missouri Golf Association Men's Amateur Championship at Hickory Hills. He said his dad, Burlin, for being vocal about the tournaments he’s participated in.
“I think to get your game to the next level, you’ve got to play in these tough tournaments where you have to shoot 68, or even 65,” Hefley said. “All it takes in something like a Monday qualifier is having one good day.”
The past year has been a climb back in the right direction in many aspects for Hefley. Entering his freshman year at Harding University, the possibility of a redshirt wasn’t totally unexpected with seven seniors on his team, but a rugged start to season that begins almost immediately after student-athletes step on campus in the fall was challenging.
“Going into it, I was ready,” Hefling said. “I played a bunch of rounds with big college commits, but the biggest thing was just not performing right at the start. We go out and have qualifying right away when I’m a freshman, and playing against those seniors right and not having that success from the beginning, it definitely wasn’t good on my mental game. I knew deep down I could play with anyone, and I was practicing a ton, but I just wasn’t executing.”
Hefley did redshirt, and pointed to that year as influential in his growth in a multitude of areas.
“It is a big step up from high school golf in Missouri to the NCAA Division 2 level,” said Hefley, who pointed out how his teammates at the Arkansas college have helped him build an increased level of self-belief since his Logan-Rogersville days.
“That belief is something that’s really developed for me and that you have to have to be a good player,” Hefley said. “When I’m playing or practicing, I keep that confidence inside, but we have two guys on our team -- one’s going to be a sophomore, the other’s my roommate -- and both of those guys, they don’t show it on the outside, but on the inside they’re two of the most confident guys I’ve met. In conversations I’ve had with them, they’ve really helped me with my confidence. It’s what makes them so great. It extends your ability to the next level when you can believe in yourself.”
That confidence is why Hefley eschews from focusing too greatly on his average score of 80.85 as a freshman. He calls it a good statistic, but doesn’t let that number define him as a player. Posting scores this summer in the mid-to-upper 70s has been a way of justifying some of that bravado, a sort of proving grounds that having his sights set on cutting at least another handful of strokes off his game is reasonable to achieve.
“To me, I’ve always felt like I haven’t performed in tournaments [as well as I could], and that’s upsetting, but I’ve made a lot of gains as a player,” Hefley said. Last year was basically the first year I’ve gotten to dive in and play collegiate tournaments. In junior golf, I played in a lot of big tournaments from Texas to Florida. Taking in all that experience I’ve gotten and the mental aspects from it, there’s no reason why this year that average can’t be around par, 72 or 73.”
“Golf’s a lot different from sports where you have teammates [to rely on], it’s solely you. My confidence is still developing, to be honest, but once you have it, you can go out any day and shoot under-par, and that’s what I’m striving for. Look at players like Tiger Woods, or Payne Stewart -- they thought he was the cockiest guy they’d ever seen -- but look at what they did.”
“Right now, I’m still an amateur, but I want to get on the biggest stage I possibly can, because I think my game can be right there with anybody. I want to be successful in golf. You’ve just got to work your tail off and approach every day at a championship level. There’s plenty of great players in the area and around the world who are working just as hard as you are. But I’m just at the beginning, and I think you’ll see more success throughout my career. I think my potential as a player is unlimited.”
Hefling and the Bisons begin their season on Sept. 9 and continue into the spring, altogether competing in two Missouri tournaments, including the Ozark Invitational at the Buffalo Ridge Golf Club in Branson on March 23-24.
Bryan Everson can be followed on Twitter @BryanEversonMF.