Freshman drives for the green

She’s a contender.

She’s drives like Bubba Watson.

She’s also the youngest on her team.

Sam Houston State freshman golfer Paige Nelson has quickly emerged as an elite golfer through the Southland Conference with one of the strongest drives in the circuit.

“Paige hits the ball farther than a majority of the field, which gives her a huge advantage,” freshman teammate Brooke Fouts said.

Nelson laced in the top 20 of 70 conference golfers for the Bearkats in the opening tournaments of the season, most recently placing sixth. She’s led SHSU to place in consecutive sixth place finishes in the Memphis Invitational and the Louisiana-Monroe Fred Marx Intercollegiate.

However, her drive isn’t what caught coach Tommy Chain’s eye.

“I’m happily surprised with her ability to read greens correctly and then make the putt,” he said.

Chain scouted Nelson during her senior season at Creekview High School in Carrollton, Texas.

Nelson qualified for the UIL State tournament during her final semester as a Mustang, where her showcase was stifled due to inclement weather. Despite placing seventh in the tournament, Chain signed her to his squad.

“She’s very mature,” he said. “She’s down to business when it’s time to practice or play in the tournament and that’s been paying off for her.”

Nelson has adjusted well to playing at the collegiate level with a seemingly effortless adjustment on the course.

But the life of a student athlete put her in the rough.

“We practice more than we go to school,” she said. “Managing my time between homework, school and golf [is difficult].”

The stress of finding time for homework, while staying on top of her game has mentally taken over Nelson at times, she said. The biggest adversity Nelson wants to overcome this year is not letting things go to her head that would keep her from playing to her fullest potential.

“Golf is 90 percent mental game and 10 percent talent,” she said. “It’s a lot of mental, so you always have to keep the right mindset.”

Nelson says talent plays a small percentage, but the drive in her club plays just as big a role to be successful as the drive in her mentality to do well. The shots she takes on the course is what sets her apart from the rest, which led her to a team’s best round score of 72 in the Fred Marx Invitational.

“Right before I step up to the ball, nothing is going on in my mind,” she said. “I’m going to hit it the way I want to hit. If I think, ‘Oh, don’t hit right,’ I’m going to hit right.'”

Staying focused on her own game is important to Nelson, she said. Even during her rounds, she doesn’t let anything distract her. She does her own thing to stay on track of her performance and doesn’t check the scores of herself or her competitors.

“I’d rather just play and have fun than have to worry about how everybody else is doing and comparing myself to them the whole round,” she said.

But compared to others, she has the step ahead no matter age or stature.

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