Oct. 9, 2012
By Sarah Harden
Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations
Arkansas native Haley Sanders is in the beginning stages of her senior campaign as a Rebel leading her team to an impressive top-10 finish at the Golfweek Conference Challenge in Vail, Colo., two weeks ago. Sanders said she is finding it hard to believe she will play her final college golf tournament in May.
“College golf is something I always wanted to do. It was always my dream to play, so to be in my fourth year of it is unbelievable,” Sanders said. “The senior position is so important for everybody. You’re a leader because you’ve been here the longest, and you really have to set an example for everybody else on the team. I’ve always had great seniors before me, so for me, the senior year means the most.”
Sanders played in all 10 tournaments as a junior in 2011-12, including the NCAA Central Regional where she placed 18th overall. She led the team with a 75.43 stroke average and four top-20 finishes. She said daily physical and mental preparation has been instrumental in her success on the golf course.
“We’ve really started to focus on making a game plan for the course when we get out there,” she said. “I’m going through the golf course, making a plan, and knowing what I’m going to do when I get out there, and that way when I get out there, my mind isn’t stressed about what I’m going to do on this hole, because I already know.”
Sanders has excelled not only on the golf course during her time as a Rebel, but also in the classroom. She has been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll (including the SEC Freshman Academic Honor Roll) and the Chancellor’s Honor Roll and was also named a National Golf Coaches Association (NGCA) All-American Scholar for the 2010-11 season. She credits her academic success to the time management skills she has learned from her coaches and past teammates.
“Balancing your time and learning how to get your workouts and your practice in and getting your schoolwork done, you have to have good time management skills, but I also think the most important thing is to enjoy yourself while you’re here,” Sanders said. “It’s really easy to get wrapped up in the practice and the workouts and the schoolwork and the traveling, and you find that you kind of miss things that you need to enjoy a little more. I think that’s what I would say to the younger girls, to really relish every year, because, before you know it, it’s over.”
Sanders, who began playing golf at the age of three and taking lessons at the age of five, said she believes her love of golf is tied to the memories of playing with her family while growing up.
“My dad started taking me out to the golf course when I was three-years-old,” she said. “It was what I always loved to do, so when I was old enough to behave out there, he started taking me out and gave me a club, and I would hit it around. I just kind of had a passion for it. Then my younger brother started playing, and we started going out there as a family, and it just became a way to spend time together on the weekends and the afternoons. I think that’s why I love it so much. It was built around my family.”
The unique competitive style of golf has also fueled Sanders’ passion for the game.
“Golf is extremely competitive because you’re playing with anywhere from 90 to 120 girls, but at the same time, there’s a respect and a camaraderie out there that you just don’t see in a lot of other sports,” Sanders said. “We’re not kicking a ball, and we’re not hitting and tackling each other. You say ‘good shot’ and other nice things to each other, so while it’s competitive it’s also very friendly out there as well.”
One of three seniors on the team this year, Sanders hopes to set a good example for her younger teammates.
“I want them to see me as a leader,” she said. “I want them to see me as a positive member of the team who made an impact and really did my part, whether it be in the classroom, in workouts, on the course, wherever, and that I always gave it my best and that I always set a good example for everyone as well as representing Ole Miss and our team very well.”
Sanders chose Ole Miss after visiting the campus and the Grove during a football game.
“My favorite thing about Oxford is the warmth of the town,” she said. “Everything here is about the university. When I visited, I just felt so comfortable here and felt like this was somewhere I could be. It’s a home away from home for me, and I just really love being here.”
Sanders said she hopes to see more Ole Miss fans attend the Rebel Intercollegiate tournament in April this year.
“It’s a warm, welcoming environment, and we work really hard to do what we do, and any support that we get is always awesome,” she said. “The golf course is a lot different than other venues because it’s very quiet. It’s nice to just come and enjoy the fellowship that the golf course provides because it’s very relaxing.”
Sanders and the Rebels will travel to Chapel Hill, N.C. next week, where they will compete in their tournament of the year, the UNC Tar Heel Invitational, Oct. 12-14.