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Collins to tee off for Spring Hill College

David Adlerstein
The Apalach Times

The best female golfer to come out of Franklin County High School has decided it’s her sport of choice after all.

Following her debut season playing softball for Chipola College, for a full fall schedule and a COVID-shortened spring one, Melanie Collins has signed a letter of intent to swing her clubs for Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama.

“The girl can absolutely move a golf ball,” said Steve Hodges, a member of the PGA who has coached the Lady Badgers for six years, and the men’s team since 1996.

“She will definitely play, and she has a really good chance of being one of our top five,” he said. “She’s got strength, determination, a love of the game and a great attitude.”

Collins, a 2019 FCHS graduate whose high school career was marked by district and regional top finishes galore, as well as three Class 1A state tournament appearances, opted after graduation to play infield for the Chipola Indians.

So for close to 18 months, her golf game went into hibernation. That is, until she came back home to Apalachicola in mid-March after Chipola cut short its spring season as well as in-person classes.

“I loved softball for the year but after I came back I wasn’t sure I wanted to play again,” she said.

Collins had offers to play softball from other schools, but encouraged by her father, Scott Collins, who coached her during her Lady Seahawk days, and older sister, Megan, also an outstanding FCHS golfer who went on to play a year of collegiate golf, Collins heard the fairways beckoning her back.

“I always thought she was a more natural golfer, that that was her sport,” said Scott Collins. “I always wished she played golf anyway.”

Megan, who played golf the fall of her freshman year for the College of Coastal Georgia Mariners, was also encouraging as they started hitting the links again together.

“I know the golf aspect of it in college, she really enjoyed it,” said Collins. “She’s always encouraged me to go play.

“I didn’t think it would be possible, I hadn’t played in so long,” she said. “As soon as senior golf season was over in Oct. 2018, I stopped playing completely, and didn’t pick up again until March 2020.

“I realized how much I missed it,” she said.

Dad helped her reach out to schools throughout the Southeast he thought would be a good fit, mainly Division II, a few Division I, a couple NAIA schools.

Scott Collins said they received a huge response, and ultimately received 21 bonafide offers.

But with Spring Hill it was pretty much love at first sight for Collins, who was smitten by the warm welcome she received from the program at the oldest Catholic college in the Southeast and the third oldest Jesuit college in the U.S., founded in 1830.

“From the beginning she really liked the Spring Hill coaches. She knew before we got there that’s where she wanted to go,” said Scott Collins.

Collins will pay for her room and board, but nearly all the pricey $40,000 tuition will be covered by the scholarship, with Pell grant money making up the rest. The money she’s making this summer working fulltime at Aunt Ebby’s Ice Cream Shoppe on St. George Island won’t hurt the financial picture, either.

From now until classes start Aug. 17, and golf practices begin around Labor Day, Collins will be busy returning to the form she displayed in high school, playing at St. James Bay, and occasionally in Port St. Joe, often with Megan, or with Stacy Kirvin, who served as an assistant coach for the FCHS golf program.

“I haven’t used my golf muscles in a while, I’m still building those back up,” she said. “I’m getting used to swinging more and swinging every day.

“At first it was a hard comeback and it originally didn’t come back, but it’s finally coming back,” Collins said.

Thanks to Chipola’s weight training, Collins hasn’t lost any of the strength that enables her to whack the ball off the tee on average about 245 yards, well within the range of professional lady golfers.

It’s in the art of pitching, chipping and putting that she’s hoping to see advancement. “The short game can really help drop a lot of strokes on my game,” she said. “I need to get a more accurate measurement of all my clubs.”

Once she gets on campus, she’ll be practicing with the 13-player team on a majestic Robert Trent Jones-designed course, Magnolia Grove, or playing on a more modest course that winds through the campus.

And of course, she’ll be shooting, on a weekly basis, for a berth on the five-woman squad that competes, with the top four scores counting, as a NCAA Div. II squad in tournaments as far east as Pensacola, and as far north as Tennessee.

“My very first goal is to try to become a starter and contribute to the team as much as I can,” said Collins. “As the year goes on I’ll probably try to score the lowest round and earn a spot on the team.”

Equally important will be her college work, no doubt challenging at the prestigious liberal arts college. She’ll be aiming for a bachelor’s in psychology, and then a masters, for a possible career as a sports psychologist.

“She’s got to get back in competition play,” said Scott Collins. “He’ll have 13 girls on the team with qualifying scores each week.

“You either shoot the scores or you don’t, either win the position or you don’t,” he said. “She’s got her work cut out for her. She’s going to have to play well.”

Three state appearances

As a seventh grader, Melanie Collins tied for 63rd at the Class 1A state tournament, shooting a 91 and an 89 for a 36-over-par 180.

In eighth grade, she finished 62nd at the state with a 42-over-par 186, with rounds of 99 and 87.

As a sophomore Collins was 43rd at the state tournament, shooting a 22-over-par 166, with rounds of 85 and 81.