DUPONT, Wash. – Katharine Patrick knows pressure.
And not so long ago, the slender teen with a ponytail hanging out from under her cap was summoned to the pitcher’s mound with the bases loaded. The Little League all-star reliever was charged with getting her team out of a jam. Teammates expected a strikeout of the poor guy at the plate. More often than not, Patrick did just that.
“I didn’t throw as fast as the boys, but I was accurate,” said Patrick, 17, of West University Place, Texas. “I had a fastball and a changeup and I was a pretty good pitcher.”
Of course, being a girl in a boys baseball league, where she played nine years from 5 to 13, had its own pressures. After striking out a boy in one game, the player’s father rushed over to Patrick’s father and said: “I guess you’re happy, now. My son has to go to school tomorrow and everybody’s going to know he got struck out by a girl.”
But what that father failed to see was the concentrated delivery by the girl on the mound. She wasn’t up there to embarrass her boy counterparts. This athlete was thinking about how to find her target in a way that would serve her years later.
“As a pitcher, you can’t just focus on the catcher’s glove as a target,” she explained on Wednesday at The Home Course after winning her first-round match in 20 holes over Alice Kim at the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links Championship.
“You have to be able to visualize how you’re going to throw it in there before it happens,” she said.
What she didn’t know then as a youth-league pitcher was how that early training could be used in the game that would eventually take her to national competitions and earn her a college scholarship. Baseball came first, but golf followed two years later.
Patrick was 7 when a neighbor watched her swinging a baseball bat in her yard and got an idea. The neighbor knew she could handle herself on the baseball diamond and wondered if Patrick could take her athleticism to a game that she could play the rest of her life.
“He paid for my golf clubs and some lessons at my local public course,” said Patrick. “My parents didn’t play golf, but he did, and he thought I could.”
By age 9, she started playing in local golf tournaments and by 10, Patrick was playing baseball and golf, but had added basketball, soccer, swimming and dance.
After suffering a growth-plate injury in her right elbow, Patrick, who pitched and played second base, was forced to temporarily give up baseball. By age 13, she quit baseball altogether and focused on golf, spending most of the next year taking lessons and trying to eliminate the baseball swing from her golf swing.
“Even though the hip swing is nearly the same in golf as in baseball, I sort of messed up myself in both sports and had to fix my golf swing,” she said.
In the summer of 2011, Patrick, then 14, carded her career-low score of 72. A week later, in only her second American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) tournament, she fired a new low-round score of 68 to win the Steve Marino AJGA Junior All-Star Championship in Sarasota, Fla., with rounds of 68-72-73.
“That was not expected,” she said.
But maybe it should have been. An achiever by nature, Patrick not only exceled in athletics, but had become an accomplished classical pianist by her early teenage years.
She took up piano at age 5. Four years ago, she dazzled judges with a Mozart Rondo at an audition to attend The High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston. Patrick was one of five students selected from a field of 68 to study classical piano at the school.
The school’s focus is not only in the arts, but also in advanced-placement, college-prep classes. Taking all A.P. classes, Patrick will enter her senior year of high school this fall with a 4.40 grade-point average.
While the school doesn’t offer interscholastic sports, Patrick quickly realized her best chance of catching the attention of college coaches was to compete in national events such as this week’s WAPL.
She made an unofficial visit last summer to the University of Virginia, where she received a scholarship offer this spring to join the Cavaliers in the fall of 2015. Patrick committed to the school earlier this summer.
“I had several other options, but I liked everything I saw at Virginia,” said Patrick, who is thinking about a career in chemical engineering.
Patrick knows her piano practice will change when she leaves for college and she is excited about how her golf game will be transformed to another level when she becomes a part of the Division I program that currently features 2013 WAPL champion Lauren Diaz-Yi.
Until then, Patrick’s schedule during the academic year includes two hours of golf practice after school each day, 45 minutes of piano practice at school every other day and several hours of studying each evening.
“My schedule is challenging at times, but I like having the balance of academics, golf and piano,” she said. “My parents want me to be well rounded because sometimes people who are focused too hard on one thing can get burned out.”
Patrick’s father, a retired psychologist, has helped her manage the pressure. Some of her analytical ability comes from her mother, a financial manager at Exxon Mobil.
“My dad tells me how to stay in the present and to always see the bigger picture,” she said.
Katharine has recently read books about the mental aspects of golf, including those written by sports psychologist Dr. Bob Rotella, who works with the Virginia golf teams.
And, as Patrick’s golf skills have improved, she has found herself drawing from the experiences she gained in baseball years ago as a pony-tailed pitcher standing all alone on the dirt mound.
Once again, she is using confidence, visualization and technique to perform, just as she did on Wednesday to reach Thursday’s round-of-32 match against Ji Eun Baik.
“You also have to visualize your shots and focus on your targets in golf, which is something I did in baseball,” she said. “I think I’ll be able to shoot lower scores and I’m looking forward to continuing to improve my game.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work has previously appeared on USGA websites.