Georgia junior Jillian Hollis returns as a player blogger for Golfweek.com for the 2017-18 college season. She posted three player diaries last spring. You can find those here: Part I, Part 2 and Part 3. Below is her newest player diary, where she details the challenges of fighting through an injury and how the experience has made her stronger in the end.
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The last time I wrote for Golfweek was a little less than a year ago. Time flies! A lot has happened in my life throughout the past year. There have been ups and down, but I have learned so much.
Since then, I’ve battled a recurring shoulder injury and made it through three stages of LPGA Qualifying School. I am still putting all my thoughts together on my experience at Q-School, but overall it was a great experience. It was a grind over a five-month period from August to December starting in Palm Springs, Calif., and ending in Daytona Beach, Fla.
I only participated in two of the four tournaments for the University of Georgia during the fall. One of these tournaments, I unfortunately had to withdraw halfway through my second round due to a shoulder injury. At Stage II of Qualifying School, I felt a dull pain in my back/rib area. I saw the chiropractor when I returned to UGA and he told me I “popped” three rib heads out of place. All I needed was a small adjustment and some rest before I played golf again.
I did not have a whole lot of time for rest last fall. I hit golf balls the night after the chiropractor adjusted my rib heads, and played our practice round for the Ladies Fall Intercollegiate in Atlanta the next day. Not smart. By the 10th hole of the second round, my muscles around my rib heads were so inflamed, I was having spasms when I would breathe. I had no choice but to withdraw.
I was so upset. Having an injury that prevents you from playing your sport is an athlete’s worst nightmare, especially when you are a part of a team. You always want to help your team as much as you can to a win. I took the time from the end of that tournament in October until Stage III of Q-School to go through muscle therapy, practice my short game and take care of my body.
I was able to play Stage III of Q-School in December and missed the cut by one. However, by completing all three stages, I gained full status on the Symetra Tour for the 2018 season. I was just so happy to even get the opportunity to play despite my shoulder. After rounds I was only able to work on my short game so I didn’t fatigue the muscles around my rib heads by hitting more golf balls.
After third stage I returned to UGA, took my finals, then went home to Ohio for winter break. Over break I was feeling much better and started to gradually lift weights again in the gym. One day I was doing kettle bell swings and felt the muscles in my shoulder/back area go into a spasm. I immediately stopped my workout and went home. After the spasms stopped, I decided to go hit golf balls in the snow (one of the many fun things to do in Ohio during the winter) and the front part of my shoulder where my bicep tendon meets my collarbone was so tight, I couldn’t make a backswing.
My biggest fear was that in trying to get prepared to help my team in the spring, I may have pushed my body too hard, too quickly. I saw a muscle therapist in Ohio and he advised me to rest until I went back to school, where I could see the doctors at UGA. The months of January and February consisted of getting stem and ultrasound treatment in our training room, deep tissue massages, muscle therapy and weekly visits with the doctor at UGA. All of this time consisted of little to no golf. February came around and I decided I would play my first nine holes of golf. I was in so much pain after the round. I told my coach I didn’t think I would make it to our first tournament in Long Beach, Calif., and this killed me. I wanted more than anything to compete and play the sport I love again with my team, but instead I was back in the training room after my nine holes of golf.
I practiced and played all week while my team was at our first tournament of the spring and every time my shoulder hurt, I told myself I was going to play through it. I took pain medication around the clock and continued to get treatment for all the golf I was playing.
When the team returned, I was ready to play. I won our two-day team qualifier that determined which five of us would play in the Darius Rucker Intercollegiate in Hilton Head, S.C.. I was very nervous to play four days of golf in a row with my shoulder, because I hadn’t played that much golf since December.
It ended up being a great week, I was a bit rusty in some areas of my game, which is expected after a lot of time off, but I finished fifth overall and our team placed T-11. I was back competing, almost completely pain-free! Also, all the players and coaches got to attend a private concert by Darius Rucker, himself! I had the time of my life.
We drove back to UGA on March 4 and I had ten days to practice before we left for the 3M Augusta Invitational. I worked on the rusty areas of my game, but mostly went out onto the golf course and hit different kinds of shots into greens and practiced different kinds of chips. I have always found practice/playing to be the best way to improve my game.
It was freezing the morning of the first round of the Augusta tournament while we were warming up. I was teeing off around 10 a.m. and it still wasn’t getting warmer. I called my mom during my warm-up almost in tears because my shoulder was hurting similar to how it hurt during the Ladies Fall Intercollegiate in Atlanta last year. In her always supportive way, she reminded me I would be playing a lot more golf this summer and I needed to do something about it rather than letting it get in the way. Five minutes before I was about to tee off, I called my sweet coach, Josh Brewer, over and asked if he would so kindly press his knuckles into my shoulder blade to break up the muscles around my rib heads. He and my team have been so supportive all spring trying to get me healthy and helped me keep my head up when I was hurting, so of course he obliged. I remember him making a joke about how the job description of a golf coach now also requires you to be a personal trainer. He told me to fight through it because the weather would soon get warmer and that he would be around if I needed him.
My parents were not able to make this tournament to take care of me if I needed anything, so knowing my coach had my back was the best feeling any player can ask for. I went on to make five birdies on the front nine and shoot my second lowest score in competitive golf, 66, that first day. Immediately after the round, my coaches took me to the trainer and got me all the help I needed to make sure I was ready for the next two days. My shoulder was feeling better, but most of all, my mind was at ease because I knew I was in good hands.
I ended up shooting 8 under for three days and winning my third college golf tournament at the 3M Augusta Invitational, and helped our team get the overall win as well. Choosing to not let my injury get the best of me was hard without the love and support from my parents, the medical staff at the University of Georgia, my coaches, teammates and friends. I always asked God, “Why me? Why this injury? Why now?” Now I see that His timing is perfect and I’m excited to see what other plans he has in store for me.
Today is my 21st birthday and I get to play golf in beautiful Arizona for The University of Georgia. I am excited but most of all grateful for another opportunity to play the sport I love with the people I care about the most; the best birthday present ever. The biggest lesson I can take away from this whole injury experience is to be thankful for the opportunities you get and to always be hopeful that there is a reason for every challenge and any obstacles you face in life.
Until next time,