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Sydney Babiak may be hard to spot on the Bentley campus, but not on the golf course.  By CLAY KALLAM | Contributor   Walk...

Sydney Babiak may be hard to spot on the Bentley campus, but not on the golf course. 

By CLAY KALLAM | Contributor


Walk through the Bentley School campus at lunch, and you’ll see most of the 300 or so students wandering around the grassy quad, eating, chatting and laughing.

Bentley’s Division V sports teams earn their share of NCS berths, and there are more than a few tall and athletic boys and girls enjoying the fall sunshine of Lafayette.

But the most accomplished athlete in the student body isn’t one that will catch your eye. She’s barely over five feet tall, hair pulled back, with dark-rimmed glasses. She looks like the excellent student that she is, with her three honors courses and 4.2 GPA.

That’s Sydney Babiak, and you wouldn’t look twice – until she picked up a golf club.

“We had a hard time realizing she’s as good as she is,” says senior golfer Max Klein, who plays with Babiak on the Bentley boys’ golf team in the spring. (The Phoenix don’t have a girls’ team, so Babiak is eligible for the boys’ team.) “It took even longer for the other teams. One guy from Head-Royce was in disbelief that she beat him.”

As a freshman in 2011, Babiak played No. 3 for Bentley behind now-graduated Daron McClennan-Colon and Klein, two long hitters and skilled golfers. McClennan-Colon went on to shoot a 75 at the NCS Division II qualifier and moved on to the Tournament of Champions, and Klein shot an 85 at the same event.

But Babiak was far from intimidated by playing with two stronger, more experienced golfers. After all, she had introduced herself to the high school golfing world by shooting a 77 in the fall 2011 Division I girls’ TOC, just two strokes behind the winner.

Babiak, though, didn’t miss playing high school girls’ golf. “I love playing on a boys’ team,” she says. “Guys are more competitive, and we play harder courses.”

She’s also noticed one other thing about high school boys: “They’re a little more immature.”

Much as Klein might like to disagree, he acknowledges that uncomfortable truth. “When Sydney would play with Daron and me, we’d just be ourselves, acting like six-year-olds,” he says – and when Babiak hears that comment, she can’t help but lower her head and laugh behind her hand.

“It was a way to force myself to focus,” she says diplomatically.

“Sydney just played,” Klein says, “never smiling, never frowning. She’s unflappable. As a teammate, having her there is a very calming presence. I’m an emotional player and it helps me.”

Babiak’s focus, and even disposition, are two of the several keys to her success. “She’s sunshine all the time,” says her coach, Jenny Park-Choi, an Acalanes grad and former LPGA player. “She’s very positive.”

And Choi agrees with Babiak that playing with the guys is a good thing. “It’s a bonus for her to play on a boys’ team,” says Choi. “Boys tend to be better golfers and when you put yourself out there with better players, it helps you.”

Choi started working with Babiak just a couple years ago, not long after Babiak had taken up the game. “My mom didn’t have anyone to practice with,” says Babiak, so she gave the game a try at age 11. Now, four years later, she carries a two handicap and keeps adding to her resume.

This fall, for example, she won the Bay Area Conference girls’ tournament by 29 strokes.

Yes, 29 strokes, as in one more than 28. She shot a 76, and her next closest competitor came in at 105.

OK, maybe there was no pressure, no competition, so maybe it was easy. The next week, Babiak became the first-ever Division V athlete to win the NCS Division II championship, shooting a three-over par 74 — making her Bentley’s first NCS champion, in any sport, and qualifying her for the Division I TOC that was played Oct. 29.

So what makes her so good?

“The first hole I saw her play,” says Klein, “she got up and down from a spot where a pro would have had to make good shots. Her short game and putting are unreal.

“She doesn’t get a lot of spin on the ball, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her wind up more than 15 (feet) from the pin from inside 50 yards. She always has a sense of where the ball is going to go.”

Babiak, though, doesn’t think her short game is that good. She feels putting is her strength, so much so that she doesn’t work on it that much. “I hardly ever practice putting,” she says. “It’s so much about confidence, and it’s the simplest stroke in the game. I don’t want to overthink my putting.”

And even though Babiak isn’t that physically prepossessing, she can still get some distance off the tee. “That little body generates about 90 miles per hour of swing speed,” says Choi, “which is LPGA-tour average. She has become quite strong.”

Of course, when Babiak plays with guys she’s playing from the white tees, and is usually 20 yards or so behind her competitors. “I’m used to playing a different game,” says Klein. “It’s a stark contrast – she’s hitting four and five irons into the greens while the others are using eight and nine irons.”

So at first, other teams aren’t impressed when Babiak steps on the course for Bentley. “Most of them are thinking ‘That’s their No. 3?’” says Klein.

Even though Babiak more than held her own, and will be one of the top golfers in the Bay Counties League-East this spring, she wasn’t happy with her first year in high school golf.

“I didn’t perform score-wise where I wanted to,” she says, but then again she was only a freshman.

“It’s definitely steady progress,” says Choi of her pupil, “but part of the danger is that in the desire to see improvement, you get frustrated. When you first start, and you improve, you go from 100 to 90. Then you go from 90 to 80 – but once your handicap gets low, improvement isn’t as visible.”

And the margin for error is less. 

“If you hit the ball to within six feet of the pin as opposed to a tap-in, that’s half a stroke,” says Choi, and Babiak now must focus on the finer details, on just a few feet, as she looks to make the jump from local and regional tournaments.

“She is starting to expose herself to national tournaments,” says Choi, who points out that the Korean golfers who now dominate the LPGA are not much bigger than Babiak. “You don’t have to be 6-5 like in basketball,” says Choi. “The sky’s the limit for Sydney.”

In the meantime, though, Babiak will focus on more mundane goals and objectives than the LPGA. She has those three honors classes to worry about, finding a way to get in enough practice time, and preparing for the expectations that will follow her around this spring in the BCL-East.

“It’s a different kind of pressure,” she says, but she enjoys it when the guys try to intimidate her or make her feel she doesn’t belong. “I like having it that way because then I can show them up.”

Klein just watches and enjoys. “She has a good swing and she knows what she’s doing,” he says. “She’s not what you expect from that little body.”

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