Three years ago, Erica Shepherd began the practice of routinely writing down her goals.
Little did she know how quickly one of her main objectives would play out at a golf course three time zones and 2,300 miles from her home.
Shepherd, a 15-year-old Center Grove High School sophomore, is about to experience a journey like no other after qualifying for the 71st U.S. Women’s Open at CordeValle Golf Club in San Martin, California.
First-round play is Thursday; Shepherd is grouped with Sue Kim and Sandra Angulo Minarro for Rounds 1 and 2.
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“I was actually looking at my goals from 2013 when I wrote them down. I had to play in (U.S. Open) when I was a junior in college,” said Shepherd with a laugh. “I’ve probably never been more excited in my life.
“When I was a little girl I always wanted to win the U.S. Open, so I think playing in it at 15 … that’s pretty big.”
Competing against golfers older — in some cases, much older — than her, Shepherd tees off CordeValle’s 10th hole, a postcard-worthy 422-yard par 4 neighboring the Santa Cruz Mountains, at 2:47 p.m. (5:47 Eastern Time Zone) on Thursday.
On Friday at 9:12 a.m. (12:12 p.m. local time), Shepherd’s group starts on Hole No. 1, a 425-yard par 4.
Occupying clubhouse and practice tee space with established LPGA Tour entities such as Michelle Wie, Anna Nordqvist, Morgan Pressel and Lydia Ko might prove surreal.
It’s where Shepherd finds herself after winning a qualifying event near Chicago in May.
“I’m kind of over nerves,” Shepherd said. “But it’s the U.S. Open, so I’m sure I’ll have some.”
A Golfing Family
Shepherd’s love of golf dates back to when she was a 4-year-old learning the game’s finer points from her father, Matt.
As the younger sister of Ethan Shepherd, Center Grove’s No. 2 golfer this past spring as the Trojans placed fourth at the State Finals, Erica admits her game has benefited from sibling rivalry.
“Ethan is definitely a lot different than me. We go about practicing a lot different, but we play matches whenever we can and we’re both very competitive,” she said. “We trash talk a lot, so he makes me better.
“As people, Ethan is just really laid back and lets things come to him. I kind of go get it. Ethan is like my mom (Jerlyn) and I’m definitely like my dad. Ethan stays calm, and as a person is just easy-going.”
Erica’s work ethic and on-course tenacity eventually resulted in lowered scores and a more plentiful trophy collection as she grew older.
She’s been around both the state and the country taking part in events.
And while Jerlyn Shepherd doesn’t play golf, she plays an invaluable role making sure her daughter gets to where she needs to be when she needs to be there.
This includes car rides, flights, motel stays, meals and everything in-between.
“It is hard to keep up with her physically and just mentally because she knows where she’s going,” Jerlyn said. “I don’t want her to get ahead of herself. I want her to really enjoy these years and not work so hard so that she can’t enjoy them.
“I often state my opinion that Erica should do some of these things, but, honestly, if she’s not playing golf or doing something golf-related, she’s not happy. That is how she’s wired. I’ve learned to kind of roll with it and just keep up.”
Among Shepherd’s many accomplishments are twice winning both the Girls State Junior Tournament and the U.S. Girls Junior Qualifier.
It was Shepherd’s performance at the 2014 U.S. Girls’ Championship in Flagstaff, Arizona, that vaulted her to an altogether different altitude in terms of confidence and reputation.
“The one moment I knew she was special is the first round at the U.S. Junior when she was 13,” said Brent Nicoson, who has been Shepherd’s coach since she was 8. “A bunch of college coaches standing around and she goes out and shoots even par.
“That was the first time I had watched her where I was like, ‘She’s for real.’ She refers to that round as when she knew she had the confidence to play against the best.”
Which is precisely what Shepherd is about to do.
Nicoson, the University of Indianapolis men’s and women’s golf coach, will be Shepherd’s caddie for what will be no less than a 36-hole crash course on CordeValle, a Robert Trent Jones, Jr.-designed course opened in 1999.
Nicoson knows Shepherd’s routines, her mannerisms and shot-making ability when it comes to every club in her golf bag.
“She wants confirmation that she’s lined up correctly and we have the right club,” Nicoson said. “After that, she just goes. I’m not going to hold her hand out there. I’m going to be a little bit more tough on her, and she’s OK with that.
“Everything she does is pretty consistent. Erica’s not the longest hitter, she’s not the best putter and she’s not the best iron player. But everything is good. It’s Erica’s drive and her desire. She is relentless about trying to get to where she wants to go.”
Shepherd is one of 25 amateur players in this week’s U.S. Women’s Open Field.
Making the cut for Rounds 3 and 4, while a tremendous accomplishment for someone who doesn’t turn 16 until January, isn’t being mentioned as a must-do at CordeValle.
For his part, Nicoson, who flew out Saturday, plans to enjoy himself while on the West Coast.
He feels Shepherd would benefit by doing the same.
“There are a couple of thoughts. We’re preaching to Erica to have no expectations. To play without them, and that’s hard for her to do,” Nicoson said. “Me, personally, I think she’ll grow and become a better player if she can learn to have fun while we’re out there.
“I know that sounds kind of silly, but she’s such a grinder and she’s so intense. If she can let loose a little bit and just relax and have no expectations I feel she can play even better than she has.”
THE SHEPHERD FILE
Name: Erica Shepherd
Family: Parents, Matt and Jerlyn; brother, Ethan, 17
Favorite TV show: “The Bachelor”
Favorite food: Steak
Favorite movie: “High School Musical”
Favorite athlete: Cody Zeller
Favorite team: Indiana University men’s basketball