ONE SHOT AT A TIME

By Charlie Zielinski

I vividly remember the first golf tournament I ever played in. It was in Council Bluffs at Fox Run, and I shot an 88.

I recall looking at that score and thinking, man, for my first tournament? That’s a great score.

There was another kid at the tournament who shot a 75, and I just looked at him in awe.

I said, gosh, I don’t think I could ever do that.

Fast forward all these years later, I’m a starter for the Creighton golf team and qualified for the U.S. Amateur in 2022.

If you had told me that all those years ago at Fox Run, I probably would’ve started laughing and said not a chance.

But in what’s been a theme in my life, I’ve always had the goal of getting better each year.

Golf has changed my life in more ways than I ever thought possible, and there’s nothing that motivates me more than improving each time I take the course to see how far this amazing game can take me.

Hometown advantage

Growing up in Omaha, it was a dream come true to stay home and play for Creighton. That’s a school my entire family rooted for, as we’d rock Bluejays merch all the time and go to basketball games every year.

It was a pretty easy decision to golf for my hometown team, especially since Judd Cornell just got hired while I was being recruited. He was an assistant at Nebraska at the time – another school I was talking to – so I already knew him and established a relationship with him.

Beyond golf, though, Creighton is just an extremely great school to attend. In addition to academics, they’re in a class of their own when it comes to the connections and networking you make during your time here.

That played a major role in my decision because no matter how my golf career turns out, I can always fall back on my degree and connections.

When I arrived on campus, it was an unprecedented circumstance when the 2020 fall season was canceled because of COVID.

But it was kind of a blessing in disguise in a way because it made the transition so much easier. I was able to balance academics more than I had expected to without traveling to competitions and tournaments.

We did have a bunch of competitions within the team, however, and that became a game-changer for me.

As a freshman, you aren’t always sure how you’re going to stack up on a talented DI team, but I’m grateful for the fall 2020 season that didn’t officially happen because it gave me the confidence I needed going forward.

Staying in the moment

It’s funny looking back on where my golf career started to where I am now.

As I mentioned before, I always focused on just getting better, but I never really had an idea of what that looked like, you know?

So when I was able to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in 2022 and compete against some of the best amateurs in the country, that’s been the biggest “pinch me” moment in my career thus far.

Leading up to the qualifying round for the U.S Amateur, I tried to stay as calm and present as possible. With so much on the line, and golf being such a mental sport anyway, it can be easy for your mind to race out there and overthink on the course.

But I made it a focus to concentrate exclusively on my game and not worry about where everyone else was on the leaderboards.

Obviously, when you get down to crunchtime on the last few holes, you have to know whether to play a little more aggressively or passively depending on where you’re at on the leaderboard.

I have to give a ton of credit to my caddy, Joey, who helped me out immensely during that event.

Toward the end, I asked him where I was sitting and he told me simply, “Let’s go make this birdie.”

Heeding Joey’s advice, I played aggressively – but not recklessly – to end with a great score and qualify for the U.S. Amateur, which is still one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever been a part of.

I was reminded of a big lesson that day because if I can stay in the moment and be laser-focused exclusively on my game, that’s half the battle itself.

Qualifying for the U.S. Amateur was pivotal for the mental side of my game, too, and has only made me a better golfer these last two years, so I couldn’t be more grateful for the lessons and knowledge I was able to take from that incredible experience.

As I mentioned before, I always focused on just getting better, but I never really had an idea of what that looked like, you know? So when I was able to qualify for the U.S. Amateur in 2022 and compete against some of the best amateurs in the country, that's been the biggest "pinch me" moment in my career thus far.

The right mindset

As a senior, while I’m bummed my college career is coming to an end, I have a much better perspective on the sport than I did when I was an underclassman.

Older and wiser, I guess you could say.

I’m much more patient now than I ever was. There are improvements I’m making to my game that I know would frustrate me to no end years ago if I didn’t see results right away.

But you know what? I’m at the point in my career where I’m okay waiting because I know these long-term improvements will eventually pay off and make me a better golfer.

Confidence is also something that’s been a night and day difference for me as I’ve gotten older.

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is that true confidence is not when you’re playing well, because that gives you a false image of yourself.

True confidence is when you’re willing to accept negative outcomes even if you’ve been working diligently at your craft.

That approach has helped me out tremendously this season, as I’ve been in a little bit of a slump lately and haven’t shot the scores I believe I’m capable of. But I’m going to trust the process and believe that my best golf is ahead of me.

I’m excited at the possibility to finish out my college career strong and see where the game takes me from there.

With the right work ethic and mindset, although that won’t guarantee I play at the professional level, which is my ultimate goal, I believe it will put me in a position to be successful in whatever it is I pursue after graduating from Creighton.

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