Weather is often a golfer’s worst nightmare. Rain showers suspend play. Wind gusts redirect shots from tees to the sand traps. Lightning and metal clubs don’t mix well.
UGA golfer Jillian Hollis experienced the inconveniences weather delivers to the golfing world. She probably wouldn’t be where she is today without its influence on her game.
Hollis is one of three freshmen on the UGA team this year. The trio, which includes Bailey Tardy and Rinko Mitsunaga, represents a quick rebuild for a team that missed the NCAA regionals last season for the first time since 1992.
The Bulldogs finished in the top five in every tournament they played this fall. It’s a stark contrast to last year, when the team didn’t produce a finish higher than seventh until the end of March.
The three freshmen rely on each other for rides to 6:30 a.m. workouts and compete daily for the lowest scores.
Tardy said she believes Hollis brings a necessary swagger to the team.
“She has a lot of pep in her step, so you know she’s confident in what she’s doing,” said Tardy, who leads the team in stroke average (71.27), with Hollis third (72) and Mitsunaga fourth (72.82).
“I think that’s a good quality to have in a teammate. She can come off as intimidating on the golf course.”
In early 2014, Hollis had her sights on Big Ten country. All it took was a little coaching, a timely offer and one of the worst winters in the history of Ohio to change her course.
Like racing for the Andrettis and baseball for the Griffeys, golf is a common bond in Hollis’ family. Her maternal grandfather, Paul Minnich, dominated at the Elyria Country Club in Elyria, Ohio, winning the club championship 18 times. Her mother, Sharon, followed in her father’s footsteps, playing three years at N.C. State until athletic director Jim Valvano cut the program.
Undeterred, Hollis’ mom transferred to Ohio State and helped the team win the Big Ten championship in 1988. She played professionally for four years before becoming a personal coach.
After toying with golf in her pre-teens, Hollis started to pursue it seriously at 13. As she matured, she showed the same knack for the game as her grandfather and mother. She won three national junior tournaments in 2013 and finished the season with six top-5s and nine top-10s.
Her play helped her skyrocket up the American Junior Golf Association national rankings, moving from No. 89 to No. 9. The success led to a scholarship offer from Michigan, which she verbally accepted in January of 2014.
The Michigan plan developed holes as winter in Ohio wore on.
“I had to get ready for a tournament and it was like the worst winter we ever had,” Hollis said. “It was like negative-10 degrees for weeks. I’d have to practice in it to get ready for my tournament. It was the most miserable I had been.”
Even with the bone-chilling conditions, Hollis continued to train. It was imperative she prepared, whether or not it was in optimal weather. She shared photographic evidence of her efforts with Bob Bourne, who has coached her since she was in eighth grade.
“She was out there hitting balls and putting with two or three inches of snow on the ground,” Bourne said. “She showed me a picture where she’d taken a broom and swept the snow away. She’d get [the balls] as soon as the snow melted after about two weeks and hit them again.”
Bourne, a former PGA Tour player, advised a move south for the sake of Hollis’ career: More time in warm weather meant extra playing time in better conditions.
Hollis stuck by her decision for three months.
During the annual family trip to Sea Island, she played golf in 80-degree weather while snow peppered her home. With her thoughts swirling, she received an email that ultimately changed everything.
UGA coach Josh Brewer offered Hollis a spot on the Bulldogs’ roster. She emailed a thanks-but-no-thanks response. Brewer told her to let him know if she changed her mind.
The return home brought back uneasiness, as snow still fell. After a few weeks of seeing her deliberation, her mother and her father, Michael, gave Hollis an invitation: Let’s drive to Athens, Ga. and tour UGA.
During the 10-and-a-half-hour ride south, Hollis remained persistent. She would look at UGA, but she was Michigan bound. She would tour the school to dispel any doubts. That was her mindset.
That is, until she saw UGA’s course.
“We got down there and parked the car at Boyd Center,” her mother said. “She got out of the car, looked around, turned to me and said, ‘This is it. I’m home.’ It was unbelievable.”
Hollis flipped her commitment to UGA in August. Her decision united her with Georgia natives Tardy and Mitsunaga, both of whom played against her in junior tournaments.
Hollis shot a combined 6-under in UGA’s two September tournaments. Her performance in the season-opening Cougar Classic tied for third among individuals. She began October with a 4-over in the Windy City Collegiate that helped the Bulldogs tie for the team title.
Whether in Ann Arbor, Mich., or Athens, Ga., Hollis aimed to take the game by storm. So far, so good.
“I really had to decide deep down what I really wanted to do,” Hollis said. “After that winter, I knew that playing golf in the cold was something I just did not look forward to. I had always wanted to come south. God put this in front of me, and I’m very lucky to be here.”
Jordan Hill is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.