Girls' Golf Preview: Danielson takes aim at state’s best as Rams push forward
By BRANDON HURLEY
The goals are lofty.
State title contention lofty.
With her length off the tee, natural talent and mental fortitude, a finish among the state’s elite is certainly not out of the question for Greene County golfer Rachael Danielson.
The junior is fresh off a top-20 finish at state as a sophomore, a conference championship and a district title, so, fittingly, a toe-to-toe showdown with the best is next on the list. Danielson carded a 36-hole total of 189 (95, 94) at the 4A state meet last spring in Ames, placing her 18th overall.
The key to unlocking greatness this year is in a ferocious attack of the the greens with visions of low scores, while maintaining an even keel and fighting off the demons every golfer tussles with.
Danielson has three-quarters of the golf game down pat. Booming drives down the fairway off the tee? Check. A lethal mid-iron game that she sticks close to the cup? Ditto. A top notch short game that saves her when shots are sent wide of the green? You got it.
But there’s one thing Danielson’s yet to master – her head.
Corralling the emotions, the mood swings, and the frustrations of the game of golf is next on the agenda. Harness that and it should take her to new heights.
“So one bad shot doesn’t turn into a bad hole and a bad round,” Danielson said. “Keeping it to one shot is bad or maybe two, keeping it manageable.”
Last year’s success didn’t come easy, though.
What a difference a year makes.
The leap Danielson made from freshman year to her sophomore campaign was astounding, trimming off seven strokes from her nine-hole average (46), firing round-after-round in the 40s after doing so just once the year prior, piling up numerous medalist honors. She lowered her personal best nine-hole round by seven strokes as well (41) and crushed her lone 18-hole round in 2015, which was a lackluster 111. She carded a 92 stroke average with a career-low of 84 at the district meet in Carroll. earning her Iowa Girls’ Coaches Association 4A all-district honors.
The singularity of golf is why Danielson was drawn it. Her triumphs and her failures rest squarely on her shoulders.
“I can control what I do.” the defending HOIC conference champ said. “I don’t have to worry about teammates. It’s all self-motivation. I go out there and do my own thing, I don’t worry about other kids. It’s all about me. If I mess up, I have to blame myself.”
The losses were magnified Danielson’s freshman year.
But Tellen saw a turnaround coming. It was just a matter of putting it all together, the talent was certainly there.
“After her freshman year, we saw that she had all the tools to make state happen. She wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t like she was last year,” Tellen said. “She had one round in the 40s. We could see that they were there.”
Danielson attributes last spring’s success to a laser focus, combined with reassurance that her game could be special.
“That was a great experience. Coming from freshman year and not doing too hot, I started to gain some confidence and played my game,” she said. “[It] worked out pretty darn good for me.”
Danielson honed her craft through repetition in the offseason, making a concerted effort to get better each time she hit the links. Relentless practice was a big reason for Danielson’s breakout sophomore campaign.
“She took the ball and ran with it,” Tellen said. “During the summer, she played constantly and kept working on her game. When the season started, we threw that out as a goal she could achieve. She continued to get better. She just really took off.”
Danielson is out on the course twice a day during the summer and has already hit the links 20 times this spring. Only lightning can stop her – she doesn’t mind chopping it up in the snow or rain. She’s going to reach her goals by blocking out the noise and focusing on what she can control, improving her game.
“I am a perfectionist,” she said. “I’m going to go out there and just play, every single time. Not worry about the girls I’m with and get after it. It’s probably mental again. Getting all four parts of my game to click.”
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It’s hard to pin-point holes in Danielson’s game. She blasts her drives down the fairway, is incredibly accurate with her mid-irons and has a bullet-proof short game. Now’s the time to pounce on the state’s best.
“She’s very long off the tee. In fact, one of the longer girls we saw last year,” Tellen said. “There’s probably only one that’s longer, Claire Ausman of Nevada (Who finished fifth at state in 3A a season ago). She’s incredibly long. If Rachel wants to, she can pull the hybrid out of the bag and hit it 50 yards farther than most girls can.”
Tellen emits high praise for Danielson’s work around the greens as well.
“Her short game at times, is out of this world,” he said. “If she’s 50 yards in, she’s going to stick it close and hopefully one putt.”
Danielson’s mammoth drives off the tee often impress herself.
“You have to love a good, 260-yard drive that cruises,” Danielson said. “That’s probably one of the best [feelings] to sit back and watch it fly.”
But true to any top-notch golfer, she realizes how vital great iron play is to her success. She even came within a few feet of a pair hole-in-ones last spring, though she’s yet to capture the elusive feat.
“One at the state tournament came within about six inches. That was exciting,” Danielson said. “There was a gallery behind the green and I hit a seven-iron from a ridiculous 120-yards. The wind was blowing probably 25 mph and I almost knocked it in.”
Though she fired an 84 to capture a district title at the Carroll Golf and Country Club a week prior , Danielson entered the 2016 state tournament riding a huge wave of nerves. She shot several shots above her 18-hole average on both days (95, 94), which put her well behind the state’s elite.
“Obviously, I didn’t shoot my best,” I actually shot pretty bad but still placed decently.”
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Avoiding head games and eliminating mistakes, condensing them to rare instances is what Tellen believes can lead Danielson to greatness this year.
“With her, it was all mental. She had the swing, the clubs, he had everything. Believing, confidence and not letting something bad ruin the whole round,” Tellen said. “There were times last year it became an [entire] hole. This year, hopefully it’s just one shot. I have high expectations for her and she does, too.”
Danielson is confident she make big splash this spring, and is taking dead aim at the top-five at state. Washington’s Sarah Nacos captured the 4A stroke-play state title in 2016 as a sophomore, firing a 154 (78,76). If Danielson wants to crack the top-five, she’ll have to shoot 170 or lower.
Two golfers tied for fourth with a total score of 170 last spring. Wahlert’s Charlotte Flynn fired a 169 while runner up Lindsay Repp of Fairfield carded a 154.
“I think (top-five) is an attainable goal,” Tellen said. “It was great for her to get to state last year and see that the girls there are no different then her. That she has just as good a swing and ability.
The only difference between her and them right now is the belief and mental make up to turn in low rounds consistently.”
Danielson will attack more par 5s in two this season. The junior can shave off a few strokes each round if she rolls the dice here and there.
“Sometimes she would lay up. We are going to attack it this year. Pull out a fairway wood and go for it in two,” Tellen said. She has the length to do it and there’s no reason she shouldn’t be able to attack that. She has the ability to hit it 200 off the fairway.”
Danielson’s short game could prove vital as well, and it’s something she has really grown to appreciate. The seven-iron used to be her favorite club in the bag, but she enjoys manipulating the ball more with her wedges.
“I’m getting really good with my wedge play and getting a lot of spin on it,” Danielson said. “Those are really fun to hit and knock it within six feet or so.”
Her philosophy entering the first meet of the year has changed as well. She’s focused on eliminating one side of the course, working in draws more than a fade.
“I’m going to do a lot of technique stuff this year and refine my craft,” Danielson said.
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As a team, Greene County finished fourth at the Heart of Iowa Conference meet last spring, powered by Danielson’s fourth-place 98. The Rams finished 19-15 overall.
The Heart of Iowa Conference teams to watch this year are PCM, Nevada, and Gilbert.
The Rams graduated three seniors from the fourth place HOIC squad (Hagen, Nicole Rohner, and Allison Gallagher), each of which played a key role in the team’s success.
“The three seniors that we graduated were incredible kids and did a great job,” Tellen said. “They improved immensely and all were big contributors on last year’s team. Having [Rachel coming back} is huge, it really is.”
The young Rams have big shoes to fill as they look to patch spots 2-4 on the varsity lineup. Kaitlyn McColley and Emily Heupel return alongside Danielson as the only Greene County golfers with varsity experience. McColley and Heupel each averaged 71 strokes per nine-holes.
The Rams tee off the 2017 season with a home meet against Carroll, April 3 at the Hill just outside of Grand Junction. They travel to Gilbert the following afternoon then return home for a triangular against Ballard and Woodward Granger Tuesday, April 11.
“Hopefully we can patch those holes and keep plugging away,” Tellen said. “We’ve had a lot of growth over the last few years and hopefully we can build on the success we’ve had.”