FORT WAYNE – Sydney Willis has always performed academically and athletically as an individual.
But that didn’t stop her family from jumping at the chance to get her on a high school golf team this year.
The sophomore, 17, has used the IHSAA’s ruling in regard to the General Assembly’s home-schooled athletics bill to play on the South Adams girls golf team.
We made the decision to home-school Sydney when she was 8 years old because she displayed a gift of self-motivation and focus that we felt would be best served with home education, said Sydney’s mother, Shannon. We have always been strong supporters of the (bill) that now has been formed into an IHSAA rule.
To comply with the IHSAA guidelines, Willis takes AP world history at South Adams.
The most significant difference is that, prior to this year, my competitive golf season would always end around the last week of July, Willis said.
I definitely feel that it has been an excellent opportunity to be able to continue on with the momentum which I have built over this past summer.
Willis has excelled as a member of the Starfires, winning medalist honors 15 times in a match or tournament and having a nine-hole average of 37.5. South Adams, which plays at the Norwell Sectional on Saturday at Timber Ridge, is 17-2.
I believe that if you put in the hard work, success will come, Willis said. I have learned not to focus on the results but on the progress. I was confident going into this season, based on how often I was at the course this summer. I spent a lot of time pitching, chipping, putting and blasting shots out of bunkers until I was sore.
Willis is not an overnight sensation.
She got her first golf clubs from her father, Brandon, at age 10.
He taught me the basics of my golf swing and built a set of clubs for me, said Sydney, who has two younger sisters – Jocelyn and Ellery – who also play golf and are home-schooled.
Through wins and losses, I enjoyed playing and learning and always wanted to do my very best. My competitive drive, along with a little assistance from my father, led me to continue improving and developing my game.
Willis was second in her first tournament at age 11 in the Fort Wayne Parks and Rec league and a month later, was in first with a 37 at a tournament at Lakeside. More success followed with five first-place finishes in the Parks and Rec league and a second-place finish overall.
She eventually moved onto the Indiana Golf Foundation Mountain Dew and Masters Midwest tour, with tournaments titles there, as well. She first broke 80 with a 76 at Honeywell in Wabash at age 14.
This summer, she finished second in the Mountain Dew points list as well as second at the IGF Tour championship. At age 13, Willis started working with swing coach Rick Sholund at Colonial Oaks.
I have always wanted to be consistent, accurate and mentally sharp while playing my favorite sport, Willis said. I have recently been working to strengthen myself physically and I have gained distance, especially with my driver. My touch and feel have never been better than now, and I have been exceptionally happy in my short game.