By Charlotte Tannenbaum, Duke Athletics Communications Student Assistant
Rylie Helfin is one semester away from living her dream. The young golfer decided to play for Duke in college. Now a first-year student, she looks back on everything she’s learned since arriving.
Heflin’s interest in golf began at a young age.
“I’ve been playing since I was about three or four,” Heflin said. “My dad got me involved. He bought a little plastic putter and would take me with him and let me hit balls on the green.”
Today, golf for Heflin is very different. She can be seen playing in televised tournaments competing against the best young golfers in the country. And she loves playing for the Blue Devils.
“Everyone has a lot more of a game face and is more competitive in college golf,” Heflin said. “The team has supported me a lot. They have already guided and helped me a lot.”
Turns out Heflin knew about Duke’s team long before he joined. “They were my idols. I’ve looked up to them since my visit. To be on the same team as them now is surreal.”
With the support of her coaches and teammates, she made a successful transition to the college scene. Even though she’s settled in now, it wasn’t easy at first. Heflin remembers the East Lake Cup as one of the most important learning moments of her golf career.
“It was the first match play I played competitively. And it was on TV,” Heflin recalled. “It felt like it was a completely different game.”
After a first round that fell short of his expectations, Heflin felt the pressure to play in the new environment.
“I was really overwhelmed and honestly on the verge of crying,” she recalled. “Coach Brooks started walking with me and he asked me why I thought I was playing the way I did and what I thought I could do differently to help. I told him I was tormented by everything. To trust my game . And he said something that I never imagined would come out of his mouth. He said, ‘It’s good to lose.’ And I really needed to hear that.”
That simple sentiment from his new coach was enough to turn the tide for Heflin.
“Coming from him – the most winning coach in women’s golf – I was like, WOW! That was such a stress reliever – from there I played the rest of the round so well. And I lost the match, but it was such an amazing learning experience.”
Heflin’s relationship with Coach Brooks began long before she became a Blue Devil. In fact, the legendary coach was his whole reason for wanting to come to school in the first place. As early as middle school, Heflin made it his goal to represent Duke and play for Coach Brooks.
“In my seventh year, I attended a college golf camp because I knew Coach Brooks would be there,” Heflin said. “I swear there were a hundred kids on the range, and he came up to me. I was the only one he talked to. He said I had a great swing and that he was excited for my future.”
Brooks may not have known that the girl he was talking to would one day be part of his team, but Heflin had no doubts. She was determined to become a blue devil. As she continued her college recruiting process, the player kept coming back to Duke.
“The connection I had with him was unlike any other coach I’ve gone on to speak with,” she says. After a semester of playing for Brooks, the freshman is glad she trusted her instincts.
“He’s taught me so much on and off the course already. He’s so competent, but he also understands the importance of balance and doesn’t put too much pressure on any of us. He’s so supportive. “
Brooks holds Heflin in high regard.
“Rylie came to Duke with a lot of talent, a positive attitude and a passion for the game and for our team. There’s nothing more a coach or a team could hope for,” he said. “Rylie is learning that these skills and traits are all she needs – as they already are. The fall season has helped her grow, just as the remaining seasons will help her.”
With 38 years as a head coach at Duke, Brooks is well versed in supporting players as they develop to their full potential. His praise of Heflin bodes well for his remaining seasons as the Blue Devil.
“Most experienced golfers improve not by changing, but by learning who they already are,” says Coach Brooks. “Rylie excels in this process. It was fun to be a part of.”
During the semester, Heflin also noticed the growth in itself.
“I gained a lot of confidence. Not just in myself as a player, but honestly as a whole. I really believe that this fall proved to me that I belong in this team.”
With a semester under her belt, the rookie now sees what her coaches and teammates have seen in her all along. by Rylie Heflin the future, here at Duke and beyond, is certainly one to watch.