She started out with a bang six years ago, and now Danielle Podoll is looking for an even bigger finish.
The Aberdeen Central golfer served notice as a seventh grader that big things were ahead when she won the Eastern South Dakota Conference middle school championship with an 80. She has been a key member of the Golden Eagles ever since.
“I really enjoyed golf before that, but that was a good boost in my game. I shot 10 strokes better than what I ever had before,” Podoll said. “It was a big jump ahead of all the competitors. It kind of gave me a boost and more motivation to keep going. I played out of my mind. I had some lucky shots in there and they moved the tees up a little bit, so it was a bit shorter than normal.”
Central coach Kim Zimmerman saw the potential that Podoll possessed and has watched her game develop through the years.
“She has some good fundamentals and she’s worked very hard at getting better. She was good as seventh-grader. We could kind of see that. She’s developed and gotten stronger,” Zimmerman said. “She’s done some things in the off-season to get better and stronger. Those things are all important. Maybe you don’t have the stature that some people do, but there’s other ways I think you can do to make up for that, too. She’s done that throughout the years.”
Standing 5-feet, 1-inch, Podoll won’t likely intimidate many opponents. However, she lets her game do the talking.
“You don’t neccessarily have to be the biggest player out there to hit the ball. It’s more about the contact,” Podoll said. “If you can hit the ball solid, you’ll be fine. You’ll hit it just as far as some of the girls that are 6-foot. If you don’t hit it solid, then it doesn’t make a difference.”
Being a solid ball-striker does not happen by accident. It takes hours and hours of practice.
“It takes a lot of practice. I’ve been playing since I was super young. In the last couple of years it’s kind of clicked more,” Podoll said. “I was really inconsistent when I was younger, but the more you play the more you find out the way your swing works, and what things you need to do to make it better and what to think about when you’re on the course.”
What to think can be just as important as how to do it, according to Podoll.
“I’d say 60 percent is mental and 40 percent is physical,” Podoll said of the game of golf. “If your mental game isn’t up there, then your physical part doesn’t matter. Because it’s just going to be a mess, either way.”
While Podoll has been the team’s top golfer all season, it’s what she does when she’s not involved in the heat of the competition that is just as important to the squad. She is the lone senior on a team that includes a pair of seventh-graders among the top six.
“She’s taken that leadership role and kind of ran with it. A lot of times you kind of expect that. But it’s one thing to expect it and it’s another thing to follow through with it,” Zimmerman said. “She kind of leads the way for these underclassmen. I know they look up to her and value everything that she does.”
Podoll knows what it feels like to be a seventh-grader competing on the varsity level. It allows her to relate to the younger members on this year’s squad.
“It’s kind of just a natural thing. Being the older one, especially when you have seventh-graders, I know exactly how they feel, because I was in that position,” Podoll said. “It can be uncomfortable at that age, but I just try to make them feel comfortable and help them out as much as I can.”
Podoll is trying to emulate former teammate Sydney Wirebaugh, who won the State AA championship for the Eagles in 2018 and also served as a team leader.
“Sdyney Wirebaugh was definitely a big influence. I’ve looked up to her since I started playing golf. She was always so good,” Podoll said. “She was a great leader on our team. Now, I’m just hoping that I’m reflecting some of the things that she did when I was younger.”
Podoll, who is bound for Southwest Minnesota State to golf for the Mustangs next season, is ready for her last Class A state tourney Monday and Tuesday in Sioux Falls. Podoll was a state-place winner her freshman season, before a rough outing her sophomore season.
She said her goal is to finish in the top 10 in her final tournament. Competition beware, Podoll’s game is currently on the upswing.
“I’m on top of my game right now. I’m hoping that sticks. I’ve been playing casually a lot lately and my scores have been really good. And you can tell just by the way you hit the ball. Everything is really consistent,” Podoll said. “My putting and my chipping is good. My drives are good. Some days when you’re not really there, your drives will be bad and your chipping is good, or your drives are good, but you’re short game is bad. All around it’s pretty good right now, so I’m hoping it stays there for a few more days.”
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