Hey y’all! My name is Hayley Bingham, I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas in a little town called Rockwall. I started playing golf when I was 13 years old and realized right away it was going to take me far. I played competitively and found myself in the position to play college golf so I started the process the summer after my junior year. I went on countless visits and met with players and coaches all trying to get me to their school. My last recruitment visit was to the University of Montana about three weeks before early signing. It was my last chance to really find what I was looking for and I did. Three weeks later I signed my National Letter of Intent and started calling myself a grizzly.
Throughout my four years of being a Griz, I found that being involved in a sport and trying to play at the next level takes courage and discipline. I had to make sacrifices when it came to friends, family, school and a social life. I found myself using my sport as an excuse to get out of going out with friends or taking 8AM classes, but I also realized that it was the reason I had missed out on a lot of things. This was only the beginning, my four years at UM taught me a lot of things about the kind of person I wanted to be, the kinds of people I wanted to surround myself with, and what hard work and dedication really got me.
So here are the 8 ways being a student-athlete has changed my life:
- They tell you that you are a “student-athlete” but often you will feel being an athlete comes before being a student.
On my visit and all throughout my collegiate career, all of my advisors and coaches stressed that I was a student before I was an athlete. But there were times when I found myself having to pick one or the other just like everything else. At the end of the day, my time and energy went into my sport and everything that comes with being a student-athlete. This is just the way it goes, I had to find a way to balance school and golf. I can remember always having to do homework after 36 hole days and wondering how any of the information stayed in my head. To this day, I am still convinced that it didn’t!
- Sports in college is one of the hardest things you will ever do!
Becoming a college athlete was one of this best moments of my life but nothing had prepared me for the road I was starting down. 6 AM workouts, 4:30 AM wake up calls to make it to the airport, traveling all day long, waking up to compete and then waking up to compete again. Doing all of these things while trying to stay up on school work and have a social life eventually starts to wear on your mindset and your body. I remember thinking nothing could get worse than high school athletics but I was wrong. It was a whole other ball game in college.
- Wanting to move on can be normal
A couple times during my four years I thought about quitting or transferring. Things do get hard and sometimes when it seems like nothing is going your way this can seem like the easy way out. I had a coaching change after my freshman year and I thought about transferring but I was glad I stayed. My sophomore year I got injured in the second tournament of the season, ultimately stepping in a hole breaking my foot. I had a long recovery and got depressed and felt like I battled through it all on my own. There were times during my injury that I thought about quitting but I was really glad I didn’t! After my junior year I had another coaching change and wondered what else could happen? I was glad that I stayed for my senior year at UM because it was probably one of the best experiences of my life. So, I argue that anyone who is looking to step away or transfer should remember that they picked this university for a reason. Yes, things do get hard and everyone goes through slumps during their time as a college athlete but preserver through and it will be worth it.
- You never take off that Uniform, everyone knows who you are
I believe that no matter where you go to school, if you are an athlete you are known. I found this out very quickly once I got to UM. I would go get dinner with some of my teammates and people would point at our poster and then point back at us. It was so awkward but people knew who we were. Even if they didn’t know us by name they recognized us and that made me think about the way that I carried myself.
- Professors will think you have dropped their class, you missed that much school
For me, I can think of many times where I would miss up to two weeks of classes at a time. I can remember a specific time where I was in class one day and the professor didn’t call my name on the roll. I remember thinking it was bizarre but just waited until after class to bring it up. Once class was over, I went down to the professor and told her that she skipped me on the roll. Her response to me was that she just assumed that I had dropped the class because I hadn’t been there in almost two weeks. Everything got cleared up but it was one of the weirdest things that has ever happened to me.
- Your team is your family, so embrace it!
No matter what, my team will always be a part of me and I consider them to be family. We went through so much together: wins, losses, losing and gaining teammates, losing and gaining coaches… the list goes on and on. No matter what we were there for each other and because of that we have a bond that can never be broken.
- You will build some of the best relationships of your life
I have made some of the best friends from college golf. We get to go to so many places and meet so many different people that I have met people from all over the world. I am beyond thankful that college golf is the reason these people were brought into my life. If I could give anyone advice, it would be to cherish these relationships and make the best of this experience.
- Once it’s over, it is over… there is no going back
College golf is over in the blink of an eye, it doesn’t always seem like it but it is. If there is one thing I have realized, it is that you have to give it your all, all of the time. Once you make that last putt on the last day of that tournament your collegiate career is over! I didn’t completely realize this until after the conference tournament was over and I was on the plane back to Missoula, Montana for the last time.
At the end of the day, college golf is probably one of the hardest things I have ever done, but if I had to go back and change it I would do it all the same. The experience was unlike anything I have ever been a part of and I will always cherish the memories I have made here. Thank you UM and thank you to all of my family, friends, coaches and teammates who put up with my crazy self along the way.
Fun loving, golf playing, sweet tea drinking southern girl