Sydney Heinbaugh's mettle is being tested as much as the metal in her golf bag.
She's hitting balls or playing rounds every day, preparing for her senior season at Saint Francis, but has no tournaments to help keep her sharp.
“It's definitely different. I've never gone this many months without playing competitive golf,” said Heinbaugh, 20, whose last college event was Oct. 12, before the coronavirus pandemic robbed her of the spring season. “Everything's just on a halt right now. It's definitely weird.”
There is a silver lining to being away from competition: She can dig deep into any problems with her swing.
“I couldn't remember the last time that I just went to lessons and was getting down to the core of my swing instead of just trying to fix little fundamental things on a whim,” she said from her home in Youngstown, Ohio. “It is nice to just get back to the foundations and everything like that, just take a little break.”
Mentally, though, it's been a grind for Heinbaugh and her teammates. They were ranked 10th in the nation and a lock to make the national tournament for the first time.
When the NAIA's decision to cancel play was made March 16, Heinbaugh was on spring break, without cellphone reception, at a Utah national park.
“I didn't even know until hours later, and it was so crazy because it was such a shock. ... It was sad,” she said. “Everybody's calling each other and asking what everybody is going to do. It was mostly a shock because we knew that we were going to (almost certainly) go to nationals. For it just be taken away like that so quickly, it was really sad for everybody.”
Three of the Cougars' eight players – two-time All-American Marissa Singer, Gabbi Keller and Danica Swaggerty – were seniors. While they can get another year of eligibility because of the lost season, only Swaggerty is expected to take the NAIA up on the offer.
Singer led the Cougars with a 75.4 stroke average in the fall. Heinbaugh was second with a 76.6. Swaggerty averaged a 78.2 and Keller a 78.6.
“Sydney bombs the ball. She absolutely bombs the ball,” said Corey Potts, who took over as the Cougars' coach last year. “I don't know that I saw anyone longer than her. She's definitely the longest on the team. But as far as any events we go to, she's probably the longest one there, which is a huge advantage for women's golf.”
Heinbaugh showed improvement over her sophomore season, when she averaged a 79.5 in the fall and a 77.4 in the spring, and she's been honing her short game.
“(Potts) was really having us work on wedge game and things like that because that's really the most important part of the game. Everybody can hit irons and drivers, but when you can hit the shots from within 100 yards, that's when you really start to get good,” Heinbaugh said.
“So I've been really just working on 100 yards and in almost every single day. I just put out poles on the range and keep going at them for an hour or two.”
Heinbaugh is majoring in marketing and interning remotely for Fort Wayne's MedPro Group, which deals in health care insurance. She also interned last season for the Komets' hockey team. One of her instructors at Saint Francis, Scott Sproat, is the Komets' executive vice president and co-owner.
“All of the stuff that you don't really think about that's behind the scenes, that's basically what we do (as Komets interns),” Heinbaugh said. “We'll talk with customers at the beginning of games. We're the blowup mascots sometimes. We participate in the intermission shows.”
While they have hockey in Youngstown – the junior-level Phantoms – the crowd size and in-game promotions pale by comparison.
“I became more into hockey once I got to Fort Wayne because the Komets are amazing. It's an amazing minor league hockey team compared to basically anywhere else,” she said. “Fort Wayne loves the Komets and it's really cool to see the aspects of that.”
She may take advantage of the opportunity to get another year of athletics eligibility and return in 2021-22 to get a master's degree from Saint Francis.
“As far as her personality, she is a competitor,” Potts said. “She wants to win. She wants to play with the best people. She shot 2 under last September (at Brookwood Golf Club) and she was mad she didn't shoot 3 under because she'd never shot in the 60s in a college event. That alone shows her competitive nature.”