My goal in golf has always been to work toward perfection. I want to develop a perfect swing and mental attitude that will let me play great golf when the stakes are the highest. It doesn't matter where the competition is or who the players are. All that matters is how I've prepared and how I perform. Some juniors get too focused on beating certain kids and wanting certain championships, but those goals are shortsighted. As Dale always tells me, "Be careful to not set your goals too low or you might be unfortunate enough to achieve them."
The critical voices got especially loud after I won the 2009 U.S. Girls' Junior. Before that event few people outside North Dakota had even heard of me, so I wasn't recruited by many big-time golf programs. After I won, though, the phone started ringing and there were lots of offers. But it didn't matter. I had committed to North Dakota State and nothing was going to change my mind.
I'm a country girl. I don't like big cities. I like a laid-back lifestyle. Who'd want to leave North Dakota? I love the beautiful plains that go on forever. The rich sunlight in our high sky, the pure air: This atmosphere is part of my DNA.
There are also practical reasons I could have never left. After high school I was only 16, so moving across the country would've been hard. I also have never been away from my family and Dale, so I didn't want to disrupt my support network.
Still, people were dumbfounded that I wasn't leaving North Dakota to play college golf. That was partly because of some people's perception that North Dakotans are Eskimos. At tournaments I get some of the wackiest questions. People ask things like, Do you have electricity? Are you buried in snow all year? I joked with someone that we live in igloos, and to my surprise they believed me!
There's a huge misconception about practicing indoors. People think that hitting off a mat isn't helpful because it doesn't replicate real golf shots. Not true. You're supposed to hit the ball first, so it doesn't matter what's under the ball. The Sports Bubble is only 70 yards long and 50 yards wide, so I don't get to see the ball fly very far indoors, but that doesn't matter. Wherever I'm practicing, I'm primarily concerned with my swing technique and impact. Because I'm so focused on technique, I typically hit the ball the best immediately after I come out of the bubble and begin playing outdoors.
There is one drawback to practicing indoors—my putting and short game suffer. Putting indoors is O.K. for grooving your stroke, but it doesn't develop feel, so every spring it takes me a while to regain touch. Also, there are no traps or practice greens in the bubble, so I go all winter without hitting a bunker shot or any real chips or pitches.
Some people think I take my annual break from golf because it's too hard to practice indoors, but that's not the reason. I've always made a conscious decision to put away the clubs. Because our outdoor season is so short, I work intensely during the good-weather months, playing about eight hours daily. So if I didn't get away from golf in the winter, I would probably get burned out. Since starting college, I've been putting away my clubs after the last round of our last fall tournament, which this season was on Nov. 1, and not hitting a ball again until Jan. 1.
I get way more benefit from resting than playing because the two months off rejuvenates me. It gives me time to do other things I love, such as playing the piano and violin, reading books (Crazy Love by Francis Chan is my current favorite) and hanging out with my friends and teammates. When January arrives, I'm totally refreshed and excited to get back into the game I love.
I've wanted to play on the LPGA tour since I was 10, but I never knew how realistic a goal that was until I played in the U.S. Women's Open last summer. That was my first pro tournament.