Joe Neal is not the same golfer that made the Rock Bridge varsity squad as a freshman. He’s not quite like the golfer that qualified for the state tournament last year as a sophomore either.
Neal is different now. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell by watching him play, but he says he’s different.
After the 2006 Class 4 state tournament, where he finished tied for 29th out of 125 golfers, Neal realized he needed to change his mental approach to the game. This was apparent after he missed three putts from less than three feet on the second day of the tournament.
“It was a good experience, but it showed me that I need to stay more positive,” Neal said.
He helped make this internal transition by reading golf psychology books.
“The books taught me to be more in the present and not worry about outside influences,” Neal said.
Neal’s transformation has not only been mental. Last year he decided that he also needed to alter his swing.
“It was pretty long before. Over the winter I have worked on getting it shorter with less wrist action. It has kept me more balanced,” Neal said.
He wasn’t the only person that felt his swing needed a change.
“I remember thinking we gotta figure out a way to get this kid from dropping his hands,” coach Doug Daniels said. “But even though his swing was off, that’s also a testament to the instinctual feel he has for what it takes to be good.”
Although Neal has worked for most of the winter on his swing, he is still not fully comfortable with the change.
“He might take a beating in the short run, but the long-range payoff is worth it. … He’s young enough, he should change it now,” Daniels said.
The short term hasn’t been bad so far. Regardless of the changes, the junior is No. 1 on the depth chart. Daniels attributes Neal’s continued success to his character.
“He’s a bright kid with a good work ethic about himself. He has a good competitive mind.” Daniels said.
“Some guys might be able to hit the ball a little prettier, but he has a good athletic mind that lets him know how to get the ball in the hole.”
Neal plans to continue his golfing career after high school.
“This is an important year. I need to play well at state. I need to play well this summer at tournaments also,” he said. “But if I can’t go to a (Division I) school to play golf, then I’m not going to worry about it.”