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NORTON, Massachusetts – The first year of college is always a drastic adjustment, even more so now that COVID-19 has caused a shutdown of campuses across the country and caused learning to shift to remote and online.
Merrimack College’s Emily Hunt has gone through plenty of ups and downs (as most golfers do, in general) during her first year, but during that time, she’s learning to see the game differently and working hard to maintain the highest academic standards through the college’s Honors Program.
A National First Tee Scholar, Hunt grew up in Sandwich and was a standout on the golf course. She not only captained the Sandwich High School girls golf team in the first year of the program’s existence (2019), she led the Blue Knights to a team state championship at the MIAA Girls’ All-State Golf Tournament.
Outside of school, she finished second in the Silver Division at the Mass Girls’ Junior Amateur and had five top-3 finishes on the New England Junior PGA Tour.
Mass Golf caught up with Hunt to talk about adapting to life at home, how her fellow college teammates and coaches have helped her grow and how she turned a difficult setback in the fall into a success in the spring.
Mass Golf: Was your freshman year all that it was cracked up to be?
Emily Hunt: I’m really glad I chose Merrimack because it’s a perfect balance of size. I really like my professors and the fact that there are under 5,000 students is something that was really glamorous to me because my professors all know my name. I think there’s a balance of both sports and academics, which is super important for the college experience. I’ve also joined a few clubs on campus like Best Buddies, which is something I was really involved in while in high school. The meetings are late at night so I can always join them.
MG: Have you selected a major?
EH: I’m in the Honors Program, which is really cool because it gives me slightly different options for classes. One of the sophomores on the team is also in the program so I have her to rely on if I have any questions about classes and stuff. There are requirements that you have to meet each semester, whether it’s going to meetings or lectures or engage in activities, that keeps me involved too. My major is Business Administration, and then next year I’ll decide if I’m going to add a minor to just diversify it a little bit, but as of right now, this is something I really want to do. Hopefully, it’ll work out that I have an internship at UBS financial so I can see what that’s all about as well.
MG: What has online learning been like? How has your day-to-day life been?
EH: Four members of my household have had online meetings, and you can hear right through the wall, so we spread out throughout the house during the day. My parents have been so supportive of everything and they made sure the Wi-Fi is good and that we have space to do our work. My brother [Parker] and I set up our desk areas right from the beginning and established a sense of school. I actually try not to wear pajamas all day. Getting into a little bit of routine like I was at school has been important. I wake up and have breakfast and go outside, just because at school, one of the best parts is being able to walk around to your classes. So it’s definitely different to roll out of bed and go to “school”.
MG: Let’s talk about your team. How does it feel to be a Merrimack Warrior?
EH: I definitely have fallen in love with the team. It’s a small team. We have seven members now and we have one recruit coming next year. We were lucky that we did not have any seniors this year who missed out on having a spring season. We all got really close this year. We also have a lot of time where we bond as a team, which I think is super important. It just keeps us going and connected. I like it because a lot of times even if we don’t all eat dinner together every single night, we will still see one another on campus and everyone will have a smile on their face and say hi.
Being a part of this team, I’ve gotten a lot more confident on the golf course but also just with learning how to talk to people and make connections. Our coach, Jason Malcolm, is a super good role model and a really good coach, and we’re really thankful that he does all that he does.
MG: How have you stayed engaged with them during this time?
EH: We try to have Zoom calls once a week. Today was my class registration so we’ve all been talking about different classes, and the upperclassmen have been giving us examples of courses that they liked and professors that they like which has really helped. Coach has been sending us lots of things, and he started making a newsletter, which was really cool. It highlighted the year and what we’ve done, which was nice since we didn’t have a full season.
My lift coach, who we are meeting with tonight for the first time over FaceTime, has been sending us home workouts that we can do, which is super helpful because we usually do strength and conditioning three times a week. Sitting at home isn’t the best thing for a Division I athlete so we’ve been keeping in shape that way.
MG: What have you been doing to stay sharp with your golf game while being at home and given the restrictions here in Massachusetts?
EH: When the weather has been good, I get in the backyard and hit as much as I can. On days where I don’t get to do that or if it’s really rainy, I’ll work out. My dad was super sweet and when he heard about the quarantine, he set something up for us. We’ve always wanted to put a gym in our house, but just we’ve never had the time. And now that we have a lot of time, my parents actually put together a small home gym, which was beyond what my brother and I could ask for. We like to use that a lot. I printed out our Merrimack fitness sheets and taped them right to the wall next to it.
MG: How has your golf game changed?
EH: I’ve never focused on enough on my short game. One thing Coach is really good about is giving us different lessons and things to focus on when chipping or putting. Whether it’s ball flight, landing spot, or even how the club is supposed to be lined up to the ground, the little things come together for me with his instruction. The one thing that I can do at home is we have a net that we can hit into, but I really like using the chipping baskets. Chipping is where I used to lose a lot of strokes in my game, especially putting. I’m trying to hone that in because I felt my chipping and putting was a lot stronger this spring than it has been in the past. If I can do that, and then I’ll save the big clubs for when I get back out on the course.
MG: Have you faced any challenges so far in competition?
EH: I am actually really glad that I’m on a team that’s a lot better than me just because it pushes me to keep going. I was really stressed this fall and I wasn’t really sure how I was comparing with the rest of the team. Between that and everything I am involved in with academics and other activities, it hit me at once. I ended up getting really sick before the tournament that I was focusing on playing this fall, and I had to choose whether to get better or potentially push myself too far. I didn’t end up going to that tournament, which was the last one in the fall so that was pretty upsetting for me just looking at how much time went into the preparation for it. But I knew that if I worked in the winter to get better, it would all come around full circle. It did, and I’m lucky I got to compete in two tournaments this spring. On the last day of the Kiawah Island Classic, I did what I usually do in the big tournaments and I dropped like 14 strokes and overall just had a really good round. My coach stuck with me on over half the holes and watched some really good shots. That was cool for my first college golf tournament because although I had to wait until the spring to compete, it was a really good experience. I’m glad it played out that way.
MG: What has been your biggest adjustment to college life so far?
EH: I had to acclimate to having roommates because I had three roommates this year, which is very different from living with one brother. We all got along really great, and although we needed our space, it was really nice to come together at the end of the day and connect. We all did different sports, whether it was club, or golf for me, that was something that I liked. And next year, I’m going to live with a similar group where I’m the only athlete and we all have our own things to do during the day.
MG: Anything really eye-opening about the game that is different from playing in high school?
EH: The higher level of pressure with competition and having large groups of people watching you play has been different and something I hadn’t experienced before I got to college. When I was playing in the Kiawah Island Classic, I was having such a great round, and on the second-to-last hole, I made a 9. There was a four-group backup, so on the tee boxes and greens, it was getting crowded because of the bigger schools like Virginia and Texas A&M who had large gatherings following them around. That kind of pressure is something that I had to get used to quickly, and I am glad that I was able to par the last hole after that.
Also, the time we spend on the game has been so much more than in high school. While on the road this spring, there were three days when we woke up before 6 a.m. The tournament rounds average almost six hours, not including the two hours early that you get there. Then there’s about an hour in between when the first and last person on your team comes in. And then usually we’ll have a team meeting after that. It’s around 12 hours we are spending all together in a day on golf.
At these tournaments, our coach has us mark down fairways, greens and putts and then he adds up all of our putts and fairways. He puts it all together goes over what our best 12 holes were, which I think is really important because on days when I shot in the high 80s or 90s, my best 12 holes could have been two over. So it goes to show how far six holes can go score-wise, whether it’s a bogey or a triple. I think that’s something I’ve learned because I’ve never broken it down that way. I always just looked at a big number and not necessarily get discouraged, but get down on myself. I have had some amazing coaches in the past, and they’re really great at giving those lessons, but I’ve never had someone actually break down my score like that to me. I thought that was really cool and something new for me.
MG: Are you planning on playing in any events this summer once golf is allowed to be safely played in Massachusetts?
EH: I really want to sign up for the Mass Women’s Amateur and a couple of tournaments that my coach recommended to me. There’s another girl from on my team from Massachusetts [Jacquelyn Stiles] so hopefully, I’ll be in contact with her about different events, whether it’s in Massachusetts or somewhere else in New England. We’ve got teammates from Maine as well so maybe we can travel north towards them or they travel south towards us to play in some tournaments.