By JOSH BERHOW
It was a July afternoon in Port Huron, Mich., in 2011.
Sydney Brickey, who was barely a month removed from competing in Minnesota’s Class AA State Golf Tournament, was listening to tips from her grandpa on the driving range.
They were tinkering with her swing, the same swing that helped the Shattuck-St. Mary’s student tie for 22nd at state as a sophomore a few weeks earlier.
That’s when Brickey had an idea.
“I said, ‘Well, if I were a lefty I could do this no problem,’” she said.
So her grandpa did what anyone would do — he called her bluff. He told her to walk to the other side of the range and grab a left-handed club. Brickey obliged and then ripped shot after shot down the middle of the fairway.
The next day her grandpa called her dad.
“She’s a lefty,” he said. “Go get her clubs.”
Armed with a new set of sticks, Brickey practiced her left-handed swing and never switched back. Last week the change was validated when she tied for 14th at the Class AA State Golf Tournament in Jordan as a lefty, which likely makes Brickey the only golfer in state history to qualify for state as both a left-handed and right-handed swinger. (The Minnesota State High School League does not track this information.)
“To be able to do that in a matter of a year,” said Mike Higdon, SSM’s Director of Golf, “that’s pretty amazing.”
Higdon was hired in April of 2011 to head SSM’s new Centers of Excellence (COE) golf program. Soon after he arrived in Faribault he saw Brickey on The Legacy Golf Course driving range, pumping out shots as a righty during golf practice. The two started talking and that’s when Higdon told Brickey, then a sophomore about to complete her first year at SSM, about the school’s new golf program beginning in the fall of 2011.
Brickey came to SSM as a sophomore to play hockey, but she had always loved golf and now had a decision to make. She could either do both Centers of Excellence programs or choose one when she returned the following year as a junior.
Brickey called Higdon last summer before she came to campus to begin her junior year.
“Hey coach, I think I want to be a part of the program and switch to golf,” she started.
“Oh, and I have something else to tell you,” she said. “I switched from right-handed to left-handed.”
“Oh, really?” Higdon said. And then there was a pause. “Why?”
After explaining to Higdon that she felt more comfortable from the left side and already had the new set of clubs, Higdon knew there was no turning back.
“OK,” he said. “It sounds like we are going for it.”
Brickey had always putted as a lefty, but she writes and played hockey as a righty. She said she vaguely remembers seeing a video of herself when she was 5 years old, taking swings with a club from the left side. She always thought she could do it but was never able to fully commit to it.
When she made the switch she started with her wedge game and eventually moved to her driver, which she said was the most difficult adjustment to make. She spent hours on the transition while in Michigan, and her grandpa, dad and brother helped her along the way.
“I stuck with it, but it was really hard at the beginning,” said Brickey, who had to put up with her 13-year-old brother beating her during the early stages of the switch. “It was stressful sometimes but I stuck with it and had a lot of help.”
Still, Higdon was surprised when he first saw Brickey in August.
“When she got to school I really didn’t know what to expect,” Higdon said. “But considering how well she did this year after switching, it’s amazing.”
Brickey’s swing was a work in progress because of the abrupt change, but she played her way through it. From the time school started until the spring golf season began, Brickey worked with Higdon and competed in COE golf tournaments around the country. She was allowed to compete for the SSM spring golf team as long as she didn’t compete in any COE tournaments at the same time.
Brickey carded rounds of 86 and 84 at the state tournament two years ago as a righty. This year, she again shot an opening-round 86 but closed her tournament with a 78 on the second day. The 78 was her career-low in a tournament, and just two strokes off her career-best round, which she shot two days earlier in her state practice round.
“It still amazes me,” said Mike Frankenfield, the SSM golf coach. “I can’t believe there’s ever been a kid before that did that and played at that high of a level on both sides. There’s no way.”
Brickey will not return to the state tournament next year since — because of her age — she repeated her sophomore year at SSM, meaning she used up her last year of eligibility. She will be a full-time COE golfer her senior year at SSM, and she hopes that will help her land a spot on a college team the following year.
She’s also only one year removed from being a two-sport athlete. With hockey out of the picture she can focus on golf — from the left side exclusively —year-round.
“I really, truly believe the sky is the limit for her,” Higdon said. “I feel she’s going to be a real bright star when she moves on to that next level.”