By BOB ETTINGER
For the Star Beacon
Shelly Ford entered college golf feeling about as confident as anyone could have after becoming the first girl in Ashtabula County history to play at the state tournament, doing it twice — and earning Star Beacon Ashtabula County Player of the Year honors as both a junior and senior.
It wasn’t much into her freshman season at Cleveland State before Ford, the daughter of Jeff and Mary Ford, realized she was going to have to step it up.
“This year, I’ve really come into my own as a golfer,” Ford said. “I’ve really matured. I won my first tournament as an individual. Obviously, you come in (as a freshman) and want to play well. You want to contribute to you team.
“I really got my butt handed to me. I saw what I needed to do to improve. I’m happy with the way I’ve come along the last few years. I’m happy with the way I’ve helped my team and the way I’ve represented my school.”
Time has flown by for the 2010 Jefferson graduate.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Ford said. “I just played my last regular-season tournament. I can’t believe it’s gone this fast. I can remember high school just like it happened today.”
With her career winding to it’s conclusion, Ford has been reminiscing about the last 8 years or so. She is ending up in a place she wouldn’t have thought possible nearly a decade ago.
“I was just talking with my dad about that the other day,” she said. “As a freshman in high school, I never would’ve thought I’d get to the next level, let alone get to Division I.
“It’s been an amazing experience. I couldn’t have even begun to think what it would’ve been like to be a Division I golfer as a freshman in high school.”
Ford will soon be a crossroads of sorts in the coming weeks. Her collegiate golf career will end, as will the first phase of her academic career in health science—pre-physician’s assistant.
“It will be nice to have one degree done,” she said. “I still have more than 2 years left in graduate school. It’s nice to be closing one chapter, one book, and exciting to start another.
“I’ll be starting my real schooling, the stuff I will actually use in my career. It’s been a wonderful 4 years. It’s scary and exciting at the same time.”
In her career with the Vikings, Ford has played in nearly every event the team has entered. As a freshman, she averaged 87.9 strokes per round, which was fourth on the team.
“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she said. “I went in thinking I had gone to state. I thought since I handled that level, I’d be fine. Little did I know. I am playing girls from around the world and around the country. All of a sudden, I was a little fish in a huge pond. Everyone had gone to state. They were all the best in their counties and conferences.
“In a tournament field, everyone is a good golfer. I was a little naive going in. I had no idea how good the girls were. Three-and-a-half years later, it’s nice to be able to say I’m getting there and we’re getting there as a team.”
Ford’s average improved to 84.5 as a sophomore and 81.7 as a junior.
“I saw glimpses (of things falling into place) as a sophomore,” she said. “I was able to put together a couple solid rounds, but I was still inconsistent.
“My junior year, my average came down and that’s when I started to see a lot of improvement. That’s when I started to get comfortable with my game.”
In her final season, she is second on the team, averaging 80.8 strokes. She is 6 tenths of a stroke off the team lead.
“Maturing as a player is the big thing,” she said. “It’s not something you can rush. It comes with experience, with time. I was really inexperienced. My short game was lacking. I wasn’t able to get myself out of trouble or to save myself.
“Everyone hits bad shots. Minimizing bad shots is what good golfers do. I really worked on my short game, chipping and putting. I really tried to be as good as I could be around the green.”
Growing as a player for Ford meant embracing her shortfalls and playing her own style of game.
“I don’t hit the ball a long way,” she said. “But I’m not going to let it affect my gameplan. I’m not going to be intimidated.”
Though Ford may not end up as far down the fairways as do her opponents, she makes up for it with her next shot.
“It’s me hitting my hybrids and woods,” Ford said. “I can hit them into the green. I can not blink an eye and hit my 3 or 4 irons onto the greens.
“It used to bother me (I couldn’t hit as long off the tee). Now, I think it bothers my playing partners more (that they are longer off the tee but I can get to the green at the same time they do).
“My irons make up for the gaps.”
Ford improved to the point she won an event during this, her final season.
“I just won the Butler Invitational a few weeks ago,” she said. “Winning an event hadn’t really crossed my mind. Obviously, you want to play well and you’re always trying to play your best and hoping it’s enough to win.
“It wasn’t something I thought of until the scores started to come in and then I realized it could happen. It took a couple days to settle in. I finally felt I played the way I could play. It all came together for me at the right time.”
Having played so close to home has been a blessing for Ford.
“When I was younger, I always wanted to go far away (for school),” she said. “When it came time to decide, I came to the realization my parents had always been an amazing support system and they’ve continued to be one all through college.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world to play collegiate golf and have my parents there to support me and my teammates. If I went 10 hours away, they wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
Ford will tackle the next phase of her life beginning in August.
“I start grad school in the fall,” she said. “Cleveland State and Tri-C have a dual physician’s assistant program. That will take up the next 2 and a half years or so. I’m still going to live in Cleveland. I look forward to diving into my studies. Now, I’ll be able to pay 100 percent attention to that.
“I’ll have to find some new hobbies, I think. I’m excited, but it’s definitely going to be a change, that’s for sure.”
That doesn’t mean Ford won’t find herself out on the course hacking away when she can.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with my summer,” she said. “It’s the first time since junior high that I won’t spend my whole summer playing practice rounds or tournaments.
“I’ll have to wean myself away. I can’t go cold turkey, so I’ll still be out there.”
Ettinger is a freelance writer for the Star Beacon.