The mental part of golf has always been a major part of Jack Whelan’s game.
Sure, the Topsfield, Mass. native has always had superior hand-eye coordination, terrific action in his golf swing and developed a stellar short game. But it’s the mental part that has kept him on track.
For Whelan, who excelled while at the Pingree School and is now among the top players in NCAA Division III golf, the mind has been what has made him into an elite player -- and it will be what takes him even farther.
“It’s so important,” he said. “It’s so important to be able to have the right thoughts with each swing on the course.”
Whelan is wrapping up his junior year at St. Lawrence University. This season alone, he has two individual victories and a slew of Top 10s. His 73.53 scoring average is good enough for 18th best in the nation.
He has solid performances against the national fields at the Terra Cotta Invitational and prestigious Northeast Amateur and he won the 2012 Ouimet Memorial with a wire-to-wire victory after holding off a late surge from Colin Brennan.
The success of 2012, however, didn’t translate to his 2013 season.
“Two years ago, I had a really good summer and put a lot of pressure on myself to live up to expectations,” he said. “I played well but was putting too much pressure on myself in tournaments I thought I needed to win.”
Whelan competed but felt let down after the 2013 campaign. After winning the Hamilton College Fall Invitational, the team’s last event of the fall portion of the split college golf season, he put the clubs away and took a break.
He forgot about his clubs, his game, his swing. He took some time to relax and to focus on school work. And when he got back to the basics, everything came together. Not only did his swing improve but so did his feel and -- most importantly -- his mind.
The change and improvement was immediate as he won the Palomountain Invitational just last week.
“I probably took close to two months off,” Whelan said. “I got a revamped energy for the team and for the game.”
Perhaps most important to his continuous improvement, Whelan also started working with a sports psychologist in the offseason.
“I just needed to get my head refreshed and start thinking more positively on the course,” he said.
For Whelan, all of the mental and physical training, range practice sessions and time spent working on his short game are part of a grander goal. He wants to play professional golf and do so at a high level.
He hopes to follow in the footsteps of other players that worked on their games and grew into elite players while living up north where the weather prevents year-round practice capabilities and breads a different type of golfer.
“Growing up and playing in the northeast definitely puts a chip on your shoulder,” Whelan said. “There’s always talk about the kids down south and how they get to play and practice all year but in this sport, anyone can play with anyone.”
Indeed, Whelan has followed the stars from the north -- Keegan Bradley, James Driscoll and Jim Renner -- and only seen his confidence soar. The announcement of Oglethorpe’s Anthony Maccaglia becoming the first ever Division III golfer named to the U.S. Palmer Cup squad is even more proof that it’s up to him and nobody else. If they can do it, why can’t he?
He’s looking forward to a busy summer schedule. Once school lets out, he’ll look forward to qualifiers for the U.S. Open, Massachusetts Amateur and U.S. Amateur. He’s also planning to play the New England Amateur, Hornblower Memorial and is aiming for a second Ouimet Memorial title in July. He’s also hoping to be invited to the Northeast Amateur for a second straight year and recently reached out to the Monroe Invitational in Pittsford, N.Y. for acceptance.
“This is a big summer,” Whelan said. “I really want to focus and see where I can get my game.”