MERCED — Belen Hernandez has never been one to skip an opportunity to play a round of golf, but the Golden Valley High senior altered her approach this summer.
"I didn't play as many tournaments this summer, but the ones I did play in were large, national-type events," Hernandez said. "I played 20 or 25 tournaments last summer, and I felt a little burnt out as the season was ending."
This summer's schedule called for 15 events, including the U.S. Golf Association's Junior Girls Championship, and blended relaxation time with competition.
"Rather than play as much golf as I could, I focused on quality of competition by playing older, better golfers," Hernandez said.
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Rather than gauge her success based on where she placed in the tournament, Hernandez focused on her ability to shoot consistently and overcome distractions.
"My mental game showed a lot of improvement this summer," she said. "It had been difficult for me to put a bad shot or a poor decision out of my mind, so that was my challenge this summer."
She also took advantage of the summer to work with a new driver, a lighter club that allows her to generate greater momentum as she drives the ball off the tee.
"Some people think if you use a heavier driver, you're going to create more power," Hernandez said. "But there's a point where it does more harm than good."
While a heavier club might provide greater distance off the tee, it can force a player to sacrifice accuracy — and send a ball far off course.
Hernandez swapped drivers after her stance and swing were analyzed at a golf performance center. After making various adjustments during the summer, she enters the fall ready to let it rip.
"The only way to figure out a new club is to go play with it, so you see how it reacts to a bunch of different shots," she said.
Hernandez had plenty of success with her old driver. She shot a par 72 at Creekside last fall to win the Sac-Joaquin Section South Division I title, but the club also put limitations on her ability to play at a higher level.
"I've talked to college coaches, and I'm hoping to turn golf into a college scholarship," said Hernandez, who has a 4.0 GPA and three Advanced Placement classes on her fall schedule. "Biology, English and U.S. History are going to be tough, but I've always tried to challenge myself, whether on the course or in school."