While some of her classmates spent their summers taking nice vacations, Carson High senior Liz Rankl was hard at work pounding golf ball after golf ball at the practice range at Thunder Canyon Country Club.
Rankl participated in Thunder Canyon's Pro Prodigy Program, working five days a week and five hours a day in the intense program, and the lessons have paid huge dividends.
Rankl has turned into one of the best high school golfers in Northern Nevada. She leads the Sierra League with three straight finishes in the weekly tournaments, and will be favored in the final two tournaments at Tahoe Country Club and Rosewood Lakes.
"This was the first summer that I didn't play softball," Rankl said, sitting on the patio at Empire Ranch after shooting an 82 for her third straight win last week. "I concentrated just on golf. My high school coach (Terry Gingell) told me about the program, and then told my dad. We decided at the end of softball to focus on golf for next year.
"I finally realized I could take this (sport) farther. It's not just a fun thing to do like it was my freshman year. I enjoyed it (the program). It's so much fun the better you play. When you see yourself improve, you want to keep playing."
That's not to say that Rankl doesn't get enjoyment out of the game. It's just that her expectations are higher now. Before, she might laugh at a bad shot and not think anything about it. Now, she'll get disappointed with herself and try to analyze what went wrong with the swing.
Not much has gone wrong with her game this season. She's adapted to her new swing nicely, according to Eric Snyder, a teaching pro at Thunder Canyon.
"When Liz first came to us, she had a very flat backswing," Snyder said. "She was taking the club around her body. We worked with her on getting her club more vertical.
"Liz already had a pretty decent game. She's made tremendous improvement. She had a goal when she started that she wanted to break 80. Two months after we started, she shot a 76."
That's what happens when you put the work into something, according to Gingell.
"Up until last year, Liz hadn't really played a lot of golf except during the season," Gingell said. "Last year during golf season she showed so much potential. Because she's such a good athlete, she still hit a lot of good shots last year."
It's not just her score that's improved, either.
"I've added distance on all of my clubs, and I'm more accurate with my irons," Rankl said. "I'm more confident with them."
Rankl has been exceptional off the tee in terms of driving distance. She's been averaging around 240 off the tee thanks to her oversized Cobra driver and her silky, smooth swing.
Gingell said that will be critical if Rankl continues to play competitively.
"The women's game on the college level they're playing courses that are a little less than 6,000 yards," Gingell said. "Liz is driving it 240 or so which is going to put her around 100 yards (away) all day."
Which means her short game has to be on, and admittedly that is the weakest part of her game, according to Gingell and Snyder.
"It's still an Achilles heel to a certain degree," Gingell said. "I think she's improved considerably from 100 yards in."
"Ultimately, Liz needs to work on her short game; chipping and putting," Snyder said. "If she can improve her short game she can shoot par. From 100 yards in, she's got to be able to hit that soft wedge and putt at a higher level."
Rankl knows that all too well. She had four three-putts in her last round, and she hit one wedge into a hazard. She did make three difficult putts to save par, including a tricky downhill 10-footer.
We all know that there is more to golf than the physical side. Much of it is mental, and that's where even the great players have problems.
"They worked with the mental game; the pre-shot routine and not worrying about the water on the right and just focusing on the middle of the fairway," Rankl said. "I feel this year I recover better after I have a bad hole. I can shake it off and come back with a couple of pars."
She did exactly that at Empire Ranch recently. She followed a front-nine double-bogey with three straight pars. She followed a back-nine triple-bogey with two straight pars. It's why she's been in the low 80s the last three weeks because she's minimized her bad holes and bad shots.
And, if she continues to do those things, her goal of reaching the state meet will be realized.
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.