Athlete of the Week: Michelle Ruiz

Michelle Ruiz, junior psychology major and member of the women’s golf team, started playing golf at nine years old and began playing competitively at 13. According to Ruiz, that’s pretty late in the world of golf. Between high school and college, she took a gap year to build up her golf resume before venturing onto the green for NSU.

Ruiz found time in her busy schedule to sit down and talk about maintaining mental strength during the game, all the international athletes she plays with and why mini golf can be a source of major tension.

Can you explain how a golf team functions?

“It’s very individual. You don’t work together like a baseball team. You don’t work together like a basketball team. You’re not on the same field at the same time. The way a golf course is set up, there are 18 holes, and five players travel, so all five of us are on different locations at a time. So you play your own game and you score your own number, but then at the end of the day the top four get counted, so that’s how the team aspect [works].”

What’s your practice schedule like?

“Usually we practice every day, and we have one schedule day off, and sometimes if we need it we’ll take an extra day for school work, because when we travel we’re gone for sometimes four days. We miss a lot and we just get tired, so we take that extra day. So we practice every day. It can be from a two to a four hour practice, and then we have to go to class. We work out three times a week with athletic trainers and all of us work out on our own as well.”

How did you start playing golf?

“I started golf when I was nine. My dad got me into it. He wanted to start doing something as a family, because he worked during the week and I only got to see him on weekends. So he wanted to do something that was family time, and my uncle suggested, ‘Why not try golf?’ So we all went out and it was just kind of natural for me. From there, we started doing it as a family thing, and I started to get more competitive and really into it.”

Did you watch golf [growing up]?

“We would watch golf on TV all the time…It was the bonding time for my dad and me. My brother hates it. Absolutely hates it. He loves hockey, which is on the opposite spectrum; it’s a completely different sport. He’s just like, ‘Golf’s too boring, it’s slow.’ He likes the high, fast-paced stuff.”

What brought you to NSU?

“I wanted to go south. I’m from Canada, from Toronto. So we only get to golf four or five months of the year, and the rest [there’s] snow and it’s too cold or the courses are closed. So I knew I wanted to go somewhere it was hot. I could golf all year round, and when I went home in the summer it would be summer, so I could golf then too. I didn’t specifically always want to come to Florida. I’d been to other locations too. But I’d been to Florida so many times vacationing with my parents… So I was comfortable being in Florida, and I just love the school. It’s small. I wasn’t looking for a big school. I liked the program. I liked the reputation. I wanted to come into a school where I would make an impact.”

How do you manage all your classes plus training?

“It’s time management. It’s just figuring out what time’s best for you. I learned finally that I learn better and work better when I have classes in the afternoon, and I can wake up in the morning to golf. I struggle waking up to go to class, but I never struggle waking up to go to golf. I just love it. I always loved waking up early to go play golf with my dad… It just gets me up in the morning, while if I have class I’m just lying there for like 15 minutes dragging it out.”

What do you love about golf?

“Meeting new people. We have such an international team… You get to meet so many different people and different cultures and we play with other schools in the conference, and they’re so international as well. I think some sports can get specific with what athletes they look for. I don’t know a lot about other sports to begin with, but I don’t see as many internationall [athletes]. I know swimming is international. But looking at basketball I see a lot of American. I’m looking at baseball, I see a lot of American and Hispanic. I don’t see a lot of variety as much. From a golf perspective, I’ve played with someone from all around the world.”

Is there anything unique or interesting about golf as a sport?

“The duration of the sport – how long it takes to play a round. It can be four and a half hours or it can even be six hours. When you look at other sports, baseball can be that long, and softball games. Any sport can be dragged out, but one of the special things about golf is the mentality – the mental strength you have to have. You’re out in the heat and you’re playing the entire time, whereas in baseball and other things you can sit out for an inning and recoup… In golf, if you have a bad shot, you have a minute and half walk until you have to hit the next one, if that. And then you’re moving the whole time. You need to stay mentally tough the entire time.”

How do you maintain mental strength throughout the game?

“That’s a lot of training. We see a sports psychologist. It’s a lot of breathing, a lot of meditation techniques, a lot of mindfulness. Something called taking a mindful minute, where it’s like if you feel that you have some negative thoughts coming into your head. You take a minute and you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing and you’re like, ‘OK, are the birds singing? How’s the wind moving?’ It’s being able to take your negative thoughts and let go of them quicker than anyone else out there, because the quicker you can let go of something bad that just happened the better you’ll be to play the sport.”

Best mini golf in the area?

“I’ve only been mini golfing once, in the entire time I’ve been here. Fun fact about golfers: we don’t like to mini golf. It gets too competitive. We get way too competitive. You’re just there to mess around and have fun. I’ve done glow-in-the-dark [mini golf] with my boyfriend for like our third date. We get up there and we just take it so seriously, because this is what we do…we get way too into it.”

Credit: M. Shattuck

Caption: Ruiz practices mindfulness to stay in the game on the green.

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