Merchant heads Down Under for 90-hole golf tournament
Today, Maya Merchant looks back on her first day of golf practice with embarrassment.
"I actually cried," Merchant said, recalling her first practice with the Mounds Park Academy girls golf team in 2017. "I was like, 'I can't go, I'm too nervous; I'm going to embarrass myself.'
"But little did I know that I would immediately fall in love with the sport after working at it a ton."
Merchant's golf career has skyrocketed since the day she left practice tear-eyed and questioning her potential. Merchant, who'll be a sophomore at the Maplewood private school next school year, already has three seasons of varsity golf under her belt — yes, she made the varsity squad despite beginning her seventh-grade season with tears.
But her biggest golf-relate adventure is yet to come.
The Ellsworth native will fly out to Australia on July 13 to compete in a 90-hole invitational tournament hosted by the Down Under Sports foundation, which invites talented high school athletes to immerse themselves in Australian culture while sharing their chosen sport with athletes from various countries.
The foundation shared its interest in inviting Merchant to its upcoming tournament with MPA's athletic director in December of 2018, and Merchant decided to take her game overseas the following month.
"It was definitely something I put a lot of thought into," Merchant said. "I talked with my teammates, I talked with my family. I questioned whether I was good enough to go and compete so far away and if it was worth it for me to make this investment and to travel the globe to go and compete, but at the end of the day I just thought this was an opportunity that wasn't going to come around again. I've got to take advantage of it."
Though several athletes from Wisconsin have participated in a Down Under tournament, Merchant has yet to meet anyone who has experience with the program. But that won't be holding her back. If anything, it excites her.
"I'm honestly just looking forward to getting to meet people who think similarly about the game of golf and who are super passionate about it like I am," Merchant said. "I love meeting new people, I love talking to new people, so that's something I'm really excited about."
Merchant will represent Wisconsin on the United States' team and will have several opportunities to explore all Australia has to offer — including the Great Barrier Reef — when she's not meeting like-minded golfers.
But the various tourist attractions shouldn't disrupt Merchant's focus on the course considering her dedication to the sport.
"That's where I'm most talented when it comes to golf," Merchant said. "I care so much about the sport. I put everything I have into it, and I think that's what sets me apart from other players."
After her memorable first day of practice, Merchant learned a thing or two from her brother Dylan and claims she soon fell in love with "how challenging (golf) is mentally and just how complicated it can be." Her passion for the sport led her to take lessons from Brent Snyder Golf, spend winter nights in the dome three blocks from her school, and plan offseason workouts for herself.
In the summer, depending on which part of her game needs the most fine-tuning, Merchant may spend an hour at the range before dedicating an hour or two to chipping and putting or she'll go out and golf 18 holes. To prepare for her 90-hole tournament, Merchant has set her focus on her short game, especially her lag putting.
And of course, she's considered mental challenges she may encounter.
"I sat down with my private coach and talked about if there's a certain mindset that's good to have going into a tournament that's far away from home where you don't necessarily know any of the people you're competing against," Merchant said.
Two years ago, the unknowns may have deterred seventh-grade Merchant, but now she's ready to take on anything that comes her way and soak up everything the game of golf has brought her.
Did she expect picking up a golf club would
"No, not in my wildest dreams did I think that only two years into the game that I'd be going to Australia for a tournament. Definitely not," Merchant said. "It's still a goal to play collegiate golf, so I've definitely been working towards that since I picked up the game, but never would I have thought that I'd be given an opportunity like this, and I'm so grateful that I have been given this opportunity."
Merchant has until the end of August to fundraiser for her 10-day trip and is accepting donations on her Go Fund Me page. Those interested in making a donation to Merchant's trip can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/young-aspiring-golfer-to-australia.