Oct. 10, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
Justine Dreher is good under pressure, and has proven she can adapt on and off the golf course. Having lived in three countries and becoming fluent in three languages, the lone senior for the South Carolina women's golf team has traditionally played her best rounds when on tough courses or when the weather isn't ideal. She recently took home medalist honors at the inaugural ANNIKA Intercollegiate Tournament Sept. 28-30, helping the Gamecocks win the prestigious event and propelling the team to its first-ever No. 1 national ranking.
"If you don't have that (pressure), it wouldn't be fun," Dreher said. "It's always hard to be in a leading position, but it's better to be first on the last day, ahead of everyone else, than being fifth and trying to fight your way back up."
Dreher carded a 9-under par 207 to earn her first collegiate win in the tournament which featured 12 of the nation's top 15 teams. She earned Golfweek's Player of the Week honors and the Gamecocks earned Team of the Week accolades.
"Justine is a true leader for our program," said Coach Kalen Harris. "She is a little bit of the `mother hen' for the group. She is a lot of fun, and she is a very motivated student. She has helped me in what I am trying to build with this program. She is very well organized in terms of her practice and her discipline. She's very goal oriented and takes care of every aspect of her game."
"If you try and you want to be successful, this is the best place to do it. I just like to walk on campus because there are people from everywhere."
Dreher was born in Germany and moved to France when she was 12. She moved out of her parent's house early in her teens to attend training schools, which specialize in education and furthering skills for outstanding athletes in specific sports.
"We have classes all morning, and in the afternoon we can practice all together," Dreher explained. "There are only four or five places like that in France, and it's usually far away from your parent's house, so we all live in dorms with kids who are under 18. There were swimmers, basketball players, divers and others. All the federations from each sport picked a couple of kids they want to train, so we were there all year round. We'd go home on weekends."
While it was sometimes difficult to spend that much time away from home, Dreher views it as a positive experience that helped get her where she is today.
"It's hard when you're 14 and suddenly have to do everything on your own," Dreher said. "You don't have your parents to make sure you do your homework and get up on time. It's a lot of work, and we had really long days. I don't regret it. It was a really great experience. You're 14 and you can go to school for free and have a coach with you every day for free. It's kind of like going to college."
Dreher has fond memories of the people she grew up with in Germany, and she enjoyed the beach, the weather and the golf courses in France. She has also enjoyed her experiences in the United States and appreciates the opportunity to be on scholarship.
"It's a really great opportunity to be able to study and play golf at the same time, without having to pay for my school," Dreher said. "If you try and you want to be successful, this is the best place to do it. I just like to walk on campus because there are people from everywhere. It's great to be able to meet and learn from them."
Dreher has already had an outstanding career at South Carolina, earning honorable mention All-America and First Team All-SEC honors last spring after recording five top-10 finishes. She placed fourth at the SEC Championship to help the Gamecocks finish second overall, and recorded a (then) career best 54-hole score of 211, including a final round of 66 (-6) at the NCAA East Regional to finish fourth and propel South Carolina to its fifth straight NCAA Championships berth.
"She steps up for us when it matters the most," Harris said. "That's what great players do. In the past she has played well on difficult golf courses in difficult conditions, but I think this year something that she has really worked hard on is the ability to score low when the conditions are scoreable. I think this tournament at the ANNIKA got her over the hump a little bit. It was exciting for me to see."
All five South Carolina golfers carded rounds of even par or better on the final day, which gives Dreher confidence for what can be accomplished.
"The good thing about our team is that anyone could have been in my shoes," Dreher said. "It really meant a lot to me to play this tournament well. Anyone of them could have won. We're all pretty consistent players, so that is what is so great about this team. We're not depending on one or two players. Everyone contributes."
Dreher had to overcome some personal tough conditions after having to put down the clubs for much of last winter due to back problems which included a herniated disk.
"I worked a lot on rehab every day," Dreher said. "I tried to work on my mental game a lot while I couldn't play, and that really helped me. I always say winning is the result of hard work."
South Carolina enjoyed a record-breaking season last year, with the team being ranked as high as No. 4 in the Golfweek rankings and No. 5 in Golfstat. The season-opening victory last month marked the first time since 1980 that the Gamecocks have captured a tournament title in their first event of the year. Dreher is aiming for continued success in her final year as a Gamecock, and plans to go to qualifying school after graduation to pursue a professional career on the links. When she's done playing golf, she would like to pass on what she has learned as a student-athlete studying sport and entertainment management.
"I like the whole college spirit," Dreher said. "I've coached a little bit with kids back in France before I came to college. The two things I'm interested in right now would be coaching or working for a company that organizes sporting events."
Harris said Dreher is one of the most organized student-athletes she has ever coached and that she'll likely be successful in anything she does.
"I know she wants to play professionally," Harris said. "Mentally, she has made huge strides from her freshman year. Physically, she has always been very talented. She is very organized and purposeful. She has the talent to do it. If it doesn't work out, she has a `plan B.' She will have a degree. She is a smart person, and she is going to be really successful in whatever field she chooses to go into."
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