BY MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Passionate playing sports couldn’t get Spencer Heller onto her middle school volleyball, basketball or softball teams.
A weekend golfer, Heller took a keener interest in the game as a teen-ager. A wise choice as she developed into a college player, good enough to three times be named All-American at Sonoma State and contend for NCAA titles.
“I don’t think I had talent. I just had the work ethic,” Heller said. “It’s just cool to see that my hard work has paid off.”
Heller is appearing in her fourth consecutive NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championships. Play begins today and continues through Saturday at LPGA International, a world class course in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“She can win it without a doubt,” said Sonoma State coach Val Verhunce.
Coming off a co-medalist finish at the women’s Super Region 4 Tournament, in Grand Junction, Colo., a week ago, Heller is calm and confident going into her final collegiate competition.
“The experiences I’ve had at these each year has just been really good,” said Heller, a soft spoken player who is tough to beat. “Everybody’s a good golfer. But unless you’re good on that day your just average.”
Better than good, Heller often has been great since joining the Sonoma State team.
The senior from Turlock has come a long way since those heartbreaking times as a teen-ager when she couldn’t make middle school teams.
“There were a lot of tears. It wasn’t easy,” Heller said. “Luckily I found another sport. I had golf all along, I just didn’t realize it.”
Determined to excel at a sport, Heller went from weekend golfer to practicing several days weekly. Summer junior’s tournaments challenged her to improve.
Most valuable player on the Turlock high team, Heller also earned all-conference and all-district honors.
Still, she wasn’t recruited, additional motivation on the golf course.
“If anyone calls themselves an athlete, they’re competitive. You just want to be ahead of the next person,” she said.
A great freshman season included earning Honorable Mention All-America honors following a tenth place finish in the NCAA Championship. Heller was Honorable Mention All-America again as a sophomore and placed 15th at nationals. As a junior she was First-Team All-America with an eighth at nationals.
Another mark of consistency is Heller’s play in major tournaments. Medalist twice at NCAA Super Regionals, she has a pair of top ten finishes in the NCAA Championship.
“It’s all about endurance. You have to put yourself into a good position going into the last round,” she said.
At the Super Regional in Colorado, she lowered scores each day. Heller fought through wind on Monday and lightning delays on Tuesday in rising to the top of the leader board.
“It was just a tough course,” Verhunce said. “Being a more mature player she handled it well.”
Even more difficult is LPGA International. The par 72 layout features plenty of hazards as well as opportunities.
Staying out of trouble on fairways and around holes is Heller’s strength.
“The biggest part of my game is I get up and down pretty well,” she said.
Where she has improved most is driving distance. Focusing even more on strength training and conditioning ahead of this season, Heller is a more complete player.
While excited to be back in the NCAA Championship, she hoped the Sonoma State team also would have qualified. Sonoma State finished fifth out of nine at the Super Regional, better than expected, but two spots short of advancing.
“That showed a lot about our improvement. We had good team chemistry this year,” Heller said.
Next among Heller’s goals is qualifying for the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, set for August, in Charleston, S.C.
Heller also has another semester of classes At Sonoma State after adding a business minor to her kinesiology major.
“I like to create higher goals for myself,” she said.
NCAA Division II Women’s Golf Championships
Today through Saturday
LPGA International, Daytona Beach, Fla.
Three time All-American
Making fourth NCAA Championship appearance
Medalist twice at NCAA Super Regionals
Spencer Heller attended the same Turlock elementary school as 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick.
When she was a third grader one of Heller’s classmates had Kapernick as a sixth grade reading buddy.