By Alyaa Abdulghany
Golf was my life.
I lived and breathed golf from the moment I picked up my first club until today. I honestly can’t
remember the days before that.
And I was fine with it.
I never envisioned myself becoming anything else in this world; I felt a fire and passion for
becoming a professional golfer and believed I was destined for great things.
When I was in high school, I saw golf as my ticket to get to my dream university. I needed to
have good grades and a great golf game to ensure I had that chance.
I believed that if I dedicated every minute to golf and studying, I could achieve this.
I kept my head down figuratively and metaphorically.
I didn’t go out of my way to make friends or try to socialize.
My days were cyclical; I’d go to school, spend the rest of the day at the golf course, then spend my nights studying to get good grades.
Even when I went to sleep, I was planning out the next day to ensure I was maximizing the time I had for practice and studying, nothing else.
Soon my days started to mash together; I couldn’t remember when I went to sleep if I ate, or
when I took time off. I started losing myself in the process.
Everything was a blur, but I didn’t mind it one bit. I thought this was the grind. I believed
the process of losing myself was a natural thing to sacrifice to achieve something more.
Besides, my golf game was at a peak. I graduated high school with a 4.50 GPA, received a full athletic scholarship to my dream university, and was playing at a level I thought was
But on the first day of practice with my college teammates, I realized the magnitude of what was expected of me and the kind of lifestyle I was to lead after college if I wanted to continue my career as a professional golfer.
A large, dark cloud hung over my head. And at this moment – only now did I realize – that I associated my golf performance with my identity and self-worth.
I feared becoming anything different than what I envisioned for myself. It was the thought of me never fulfilling the destiny that terrified me.
I feared becoming anything less than great.
I started playing golf as if my life was on the line. I started believing the scores I posted every round was a direct reflection of who I was. When I played great, I felt on top of the world.
When I didn’t play my best, it was hard to look at myself in the mirror.
I started to panic over small mistakes and created worst-case scenarios in my head about what might happen every time I stood on the tee box.
I lost who I was and why I was even playing golf in the first place.
By the end of my sophomore year, I was at my all-time low. I felt defeated and my golf game was nowhere near the performance level it needed to be. There were multiple occasions where I thought my career in golf was a sunk-cost fallacy, that all the time and money I’ve invested was just a waste.
My grades were salvageable so that I could apply for an internship or study abroad. I thought maybe that was the path. I started to believe that golf was never my destiny.
Yet, I was reluctant to secure an internship. When I did apply for internships and got accepted, I never followed through. I never saw myself with a desk job, so I never made an effort to have one.
I was still too hung up about my golf game and how I failed.
My mother suggested I take a flight home to Asia to see my extended family for the next month and clear my head.
So, I did and I’m glad I did.
After my trip home, I felt renewed and refreshed. It was true that my golf game didn’t seem promising, but this feeling gave me hope and strength to keep moving forward.
I realized all this time, when I thought I wasn’t made to be an athlete or thought less of myself, it was because I saw golf as my only identity.
It took me a long time to understand that even though I played golf for a living, it wasn’t who I was at my core. When I returned for my third year of college, I created space between golf and my life outside of golf.
Whatever happened at the golf course, I didn’t want it to affect how I carried myself.
Soon enough, I started performing better. I felt calmer, happier, and more confident on the course.
My dream of being a professional golfer was coming closer and closer.
Today, I am a college graduate, a two-time Dean’s List student-athlete, a three-year All-American, a two-time PAC-12 Champion, and trending farther than I thought I would be in my life.
I have a close-knit of friends who are always there for me and bless them for staying by my side through it all.
Golf is my life and a part of my identity, but who I am is much more than that.
So, whatever your journey is, wherever your destiny lies, go full force. But draw a line between your ambitions and self-worth because you are much more than a number on a scorecard.
Remember, when it comes to life make sure to pay attention to what you pay attention to. Chances are if you’re always belittling yourself or putting yourself up on this high horse in your mind, you’re far from reality.
And I’ve come to learn that the only unbeaten record belongs to reality. It will always have a way of eventually finding you.
Living “Freer” as an Athlete
The Story of Bentley Cotton
I still think back to when I was growing up, watching my older brother compete in every sport he could play. My passion for sports began here.
I remember watching his excitement playing and knew that was exactly what I wanted to do.
Luckily for me, I had an amazing family support system for that.
As soon as I showed interest in sports, my family let me play whatever I wanted.
And I played everything I could.
I always played golf as my Dad had played college golf, and we were gifted plastic clubs and cut-down clubs as soon as my brother and I could stand.
My first team sport was baseball with the boys, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I then added volleyball and basketball to the list.
The neighborhood leagues often allowed the girls to play on the boy teams, and I loved that as I was a tomboy! I soon switched to select softball but added in hockey and flag football, mostly boy dominant teams.
I was always doing something, and I loved that.
I never wanted to sit still; I just loved moving and competing.
I remember getting to 6th grade, and my brother’s football coach was so excited to think I might play for them in 7th and 8th grade. While I kept playing multiple sports, my heart pushed me more to golf once I was in middle school. That was when I found the sport I was most passionate about, golf.
Every athlete grows up wanting to go pro in whatever sport they love.
Luckily, I loved golf, arguably the best sport for a woman to choose for a professional career.
In seventh grade, I decided to devote all of my attention to the game, and since then, I have never stopped pushing forwards.
I fell in love with the sport.
Not only that, but I fell in love with the grind. I fell in love with showing up to the course and working my hardest every single day to get better and better. Before I knew it, my life became golf.
I attended Westlake High School in Austin, Texas.
Austin is one of the unique cities in the world. Between the sports, the music, and the lakes, there truly is something for everybody there. It also provides people like me with a great opportunity for exposure.
When I began to take golf seriously truly, my dream was to play at the college D1 level. High school was where I showed people what I was made of. I kept working on getting better, and during my sophomore year, I helped lead our golf team to a state championship.
The moment I had when holding up that trophy was surreal. It was something I knew I had to feel again.
I remembered that feeling and took that mindset to every training session I had the next year. Every tournament that I played, I thought of holding up that trophy. I kept working harder, and before I knew it, I was holding that trophy up again my junior year.
I wanted to do that again so badly. I knew going into my senior year that I could; we were that good of a team. The team was looking great. We were firing on all cylinders, then covid hit. The season ended, and with it, so made my high school career.
I was devastated.
My teammates and coaches were too.
Ending my high school golf career with no Spring tournaments and district, Regional, or State tournaments was honestly very tough to comprehend. I loved my high school team, and more importantly, we believed in each other!
I wanted that third title so badly but decided I had to make the best of the situation. I continued to play and practice during those many months.
I knew I had to continue; golf was not only an outlet for the devastation but my true passion. I entered the 2020 Texas Women’s Amateur tournament played at the University of Texas Golf Club.
Texas would be my home for the next four years as I had signed to play for UT Austin in the Fall of my Senior year.
After one day of “seeding,” I began match play, and after four days and seven matches, I became the 2020 Texas Women’s Champion.
It was simply AMAZING and such an honor to be a part of history as it was the 99th annual tournament. My name will forever be edged on that trophy, along with the game’s past greats like Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Betsy Rawls.
In the Fall of 2020, I was a member of the University of Texas golf team.
Playing at UT is truly a dream come true.
I love every second of it. I love my teammates, I love the coaches, and most importantly, I still love the game.
As I continue my collegiate career, hoping to advance into a professional career soon, I learn more about myself and the game every day.
When I play, I look around, and I see all the young girls watching me. I think back to when I was in their shoes, watching older golfers play, falling in love with the game more and more at each tournament.
Being where I am now and knowing how far I have come, I have learned some important lessons.
Firstly, I’ve learned that young girls should play as many sports as they want to.
This gives them the competitive drive that is much needed in golf and in life.
Being an individual sport, it takes a lot of personal motivation to keep going and getting better. In team sports, there are many other people around to support you, and you learn to be a team player who is a crucial life skill.
The second thing I want young girls to understand is ALWAYS to be a good sport!
You are playing the golf course, NOT the other players.
The golf world is also very small, and you will want a good name as you journey along, especially with college coaches.
Clap for good golf and be kind to other players as many become your friends and support system later in life.
Finally, make sure to take breaks.
In any sport, it is hard to play it 24/7, 365.
I have other hobbies and enjoy taking a week or so off during Christmas to be at my family’s ranch with family and friends. There’s nothing like taking some time to live free.
If you have another interest, make sure you take time off of your sport to do that hobby or interest you enjoy too!
I love this game. I put so much into it and it rewards me with new memories, friends, and experiences every day. I feel so blessed and thankful for my journey to where I am, and I truly cannot wait for what is next for me with this sport. Just know with a little hard work and determination, the same is possible for you.