Feb. 27, 2014
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – From the green of her nation isle to the kelly green of Marshall, Sarah Helly is rooted in a game she loves.
Even before Helly finished high school in Enniscrone, Ireland, she had decided she wanted to attend the Darren Clarke Golf School, founded by the 2011 British Open champion and Ryder Cup star from Northern Ireland.
“I spent four years as a normal high school, and then I went to Darren Clarke School,” Helly said. “It’s a two-year program. You do a diploma in sport, concentrating on golf, working with professionals. It’s kind of like the Ledbetter Academy in America, but probably not as high-tech as that.
“I kind of went there because I knew I wanted to go to America and get a degree and play golf. And starting there would make my golf even better and help me get a scholarship in America, and it did.”
Helly moved to Marshall and the women’s golf program last August from Wayland Baptist University in Texas. The junior transfer and her Herd teammates open the spring portion of the 2013-14 season Sunday in the three-day Edwin Watts Kiawah Island (S.C.) Classic, where a 36-team field is the largest in collegiate (men’s or women’s) golf.
Helly will be joined in Coach Meredith Knight Rowsey’s lineup by senior Rachel Thompson – who won the Dayton (Ohio) Fall Invitational title in the team’s last event. Others in the Herd five will be junior Korakot Simsiriwong and freshmen Gabby Marcum and Ashley DeMoss.
Helly said she is looking for better results than in her first-semester play at Marshall. She averaged 84.7 strokes over 10 rounds. Knight Rowsey said she knows the Irish player can lower that number, too, and is anxious to see what Helly has changed in her game.
The player certainly has the experience. Helly, 21, started playing at age 3. Helly’s father, John, owns and operates a par-3 course in Enniscrone, where he and a business partner have developed a special golf tee that the Herd junior carries with her and uses regularly.
“There’s a photo of me at age 3 playing golf,” Helly said. “He took me out in a little trolley, a pushcart, and gave me a little leather bag, a small Macgregor bag, and I had my own steel clubs for my size.”
She grew up on the nine-acre family course that overlooks 3 miles of the Atlantic Ocean coastline.
“The land has been in the family for 40-some years,” Helly said. “My grandfather -- my father’s father – just had it as a field, but my father bought it from him and turned it into a pitch-and-putt course … Enniscrone Pitch & Putt.”
As for the Helly golf tee, it’s not something traditionalists are likely to try … yet.
“It’s plastic,” Helly said. “People would think it would affect the way you hit the ball compared to a wooden tee, but it doesn’t. You wouldn’t use it if it did knock the distance out of the ball. I wouldn’t use it if it did, and I use it.
“It’s only made in Ireland. We didn’t bring it to America, not even to England. It doesn’t break, or breaks only rarely. How long have I used it? For years.”
Helly’s connection to Marshall came through the Herd’s home course. Her older brother, George Helly, is an Ohio State graduate in landscape and golf course architecture and budding course designer. He is a former assistant course superintendent at Guyan Golf & Country Club.
When his sister’s early hopes to go to Tulsa were sidetracked, she went to Wayland Baptist with hopes to eventually move to the Golden Hurricane program. When that didn’t happen, Helly’s brother contacted Knight Rowsey about his sister’s interest in playing NCAA Division I golf.
Helly came to the United States in January 2012. She moved to Marshall last summer and spent her early months adapting to a new place as well as a new team.
“I feel like being here has been good,” Helly said. “My golf hasn’t been up to the standard I wanted to be yet, but I feel like I needed some extra settling into environment. Everything was new. Hopefully, this semester is better for me. I’m more used to the environment, more settled. My swing is better, and I feel like I’m playing better.”
Helly went home to Ireland for the holiday semester break, and there she had an opportunity her Herd teammates didn’t have. She could get on the golf course every day.
“I found the winter here hard,” Helly said. ‘It’s been very cold, until we finally got out last week. I’d rather play outside. I like to see the way the ball travels or flies, and you can’t do that downstairs (in the Gullickson Hall hitting room).
“My short game is the best part of my game, chipping, putting, and I miss being outside. I went home to Ireland for the holidays and played there. There was a lot of bad weather for there, but not any snow. It’s cold, but no snow. It rarely snows there, and the cold is around the high 30s, low 40s. It doesn’t get really cold there often, and rarely freezing.”
Helly said she has switched her major from business to sports marketing, explaining, “I like business but I love sport. Some of the business classes I wasn’t enjoying, so I decided to combine both business and sport.”
The Herd women are looking for their first team championship since October 2011, when Marshall won the CSU Wendy’s Invitational in Charleston, S.C., behind co-medalist Allison Harper. MU will play a five-match spring schedule, culminating with the Conference USA Championships in Gulf Shores, Ala., from April 21-23.
“I’d like the team to have a top-three finish,” Helly said when asked about goals for the 2014 spring. “Winning is always nice, but I think a top-three finish would be a good goal for us. For myself, I’d like a top 10 finish … or top five would be great, but I know I have to start somewhere and build from that.”