On one of Schenectady’s cold and rainy late fall days, Emily Ferguson '18 is practicing with her pitching wedge at Pebble Beach.
OK, not AT Pebble Beach. The sophomore golf standout is actually in the basement of Alumni Gymnasium, where a converted racket court houses Union’s golf simulator.
Emily loosens her arms as she sets herself over the ball, takes a backswing, and unleashes a stroke that sends the ball off in a blur. A millisecond later, the ball hits the projected screen with a satisfying thud. Then the computer takes over and—based on readings of the ball’s speed and trajectory—places the ball on the fairway as Emily prepares for the next shot.
Coach Mary Ellen Burt replays each of Emily’s swings in slow motion on a monitor.
“See this line?” Burt says, tracing the arc of the club shaft through Emily’s swing. “She’s not moving much at all. That’s good.” Burt draws a circle on the screen around Emily’s head. Slowly advancing the video, she sees that her head scarcely moves. “You can see that her head comes down just a little as she dresses the ball, but that’s pretty good.”
Union inaugurated women’s golf in 2012 under Coach Burt, herself an elite golfer whose recent tournament results include the Northeast Women’s Golf Association champion and Capital District Open champion. (Burt is also the highly successful head coach of women’s basketball, with winning records in all but one of the last 15 seasons.)
Women’s golf has a roster of nine players who compete in fall and spring tournaments in the Liberty League. Opponents include Vassar, St. Lawrence, William Smith, New York University, Wellesley and Mount Holyoke.
As any northeast golfer knows, the sport is at the mercy of the weather, particularly in the spring. In 2014, after a terrible winter that lingered well into April, the golfers’ first ball hit outdoors was at a tournament at Vassar College. But thanks to the simulator, the players were ready, having tested their skills on 15 challenging courses.
The door to the simulator room is coded so that players can practice any time. Burt can later call up each athlete’s session to give feedback.
If the simulator is a game changer, Burt and her athletes also know that there’s nothing like the real thing.
The team has planned a training trip to Florida for this spring.
For more on women's golf and other Union athletics visit unionathletics.com.