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A cut above the rest

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Dakota Ridge sophomore Sydney Merchant continues to get better and better on the golf course

By Michael Hicks

There’s a quiet confidence within Sydney Merchant. It’s evident both in the way she speaks and when she’s on the golf course.

She’s not one for many words; instead Merchant does most of her talking with her game, which has been unflappable in 2014.
Ultra-competitive, the 16-year-old Dakota Ridge sophomore thrives on the game. It pushes her to be better as the results have shown. The two-time 5A Jeffco League MVP was imperative to the Lady Eagles’ run to another conference team title. Dakota Ridge won four of six events by an average of 15.75 strokes. In six league tournaments, Merchant posted a nine-hole average of 35.83 or 2-under-par. That was nearly four strokes better than her nearest competitor, who also happened to be her junior teammate Gillian Vance.
Merchant, who was introduced to the game eight years ago by her father, Mark, carded two rounds in the 60s, including a 9-under-par 63 at The Meadows on April 21. She also fired a 4-under 68 last month at Broken Tee Golf Course, which served as the host of the 5A Central Region tournament on May 5. Results from that tournament weren’t available at press time.
Though it wasn’t like Merchant was all that bad in 2013 — after all she tied for third at the 5A state tournament in Grand Junction with a 155 total — but golf has become an even bigger focus this year. Last year, she also played soccer in the spring. Her time isn’t split between the two sports now, allowing her to solely focus on golf. It was an easy decision, Merchant said, so that she could further her golf career and take it to the next level. She’s doing that, but there’s even more to her improving game.
“Her best improvement with her physical game has been her putting. She’s making putts left and right. That’s what you have to be able to do to shoot that kind of score,” Dakota Ridge head coach Levi Bartholomew said. “I also think that an added year of maturity has helped her in terms of her mental game. She’s focused more than ever. She doesn’t worry about hole to hole. She worries about just putting her round together.”
In other words, she plays her game. Merchant, whose average would’ve been even lower if not for an 83 at The Club of Rolling Hills in the regular-season finale, doesn’t concern herself with the other girls in her group and what they’re doing. That’s just another part of her maturation process. She pushes forward and worries about what she is doing.
“She can only control what she can control,” Bartholomew said.
Merchant is quick to note that controlling her emotions on the golf course wasn’t always a strong point. But something clicked in 2014, and she’s matured because of it.
“Golf is really frustrating, but I’ve discovered that even one bad shot is not going to (ruin) your whole round if you don’t let it,” Merchant said.
And she hasn’t.
If this keeps up, the sky is the limit for Merchant. She hopes to attend the University of Florida and make it on the LPGA Tour. Those lofty goals are a little ways off, but she’s more than capable of obtaining them, if her scores are proof of that.
“I don’t think there’s a limit or a ceiling of how good she really can be if she can continue to grow year after year like she’s doing right now,” Bartholomew said. “There really isn’t a limit to what she can do.”

Contact Michael Hicks at sports@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 15.