Talk to professional golfers at various levels, and they will tell you that the most pressure they ever felt — when their tongues went dry and their hands began to shake — was either during a major tournament or in qualifying for their respective tours.
Jackie Stoelting, the former Jackie Barenborg, disagrees.
“Competing in the GolfChannel’s ‘Big Break Florida’ was the most pressure I ever felt, and I’ve competed in the U.S. Open, which is a major,” said Stoelting, who is the daughter of former Niskayuna High School standout Ed Borenborg. “It was so much harder than I anticipated.”
Golf fans are quite familiar with The GolfChannel’s “Big Break” series, which pits aspiring professional golfers against each other for big money, lots of prizes and automatic berths in either a PGA or LPGA tournament. The all-golf network showcases several of these events every year.
The “Big Break” series is sort of a reality show, where one or more players is booted off every segment until there is a winner. It is taped, and every competitor must sign a contract not to reveal any information about the competition. The “Big Break Florida” was taped in October, and the first show will be Monday night.
The format for the “Big Break” series includes numerous skills competitions, which tests every club in the bag and every part of the players’ games, including the ability to perform under pressure.
“I auditioned in Albany for this one, but I also auditioned a few years ago, and I was an alternate,” Stoelting said. “Once you are an alternate, at least your name is in the system, and they know who you are. When I auditioned this year in Albany, it was when the Symetra Tour was up there in July. The GolfChannel crew was there. They asked me what kind of year I was having, and I told them how I had qualified for the U.S. Open and made the cut. I also told them how I had just gotten married. They told me they would get back to me, and they did.”
Stoelting said the GolfChannel is looking for players who have plenty of talent, but the show is also searching for golfers who are interesting to watch as they battle through the “Big Break” series. Personality is a must.
“Obviously, it’s a combination of how you play golf, and the stories they can tell about you,” she said. “They are looking for certain types of contestants. I’m not sure how they choose, but I do know you can’t be shy.”
Stoelting said the “Big Break” competition tested more than her game.
“It was intense pressure, because you don’t really have 18 holes of golf to play. You don’t know what to expect on each show. They are always coming up with some different kind of competition and challenge for you to face. Also, there are 15 cameras in your face at all times. When you are standing over the ball, you just don’t want to shank.”
During the competition, Stoelting was only allowed to talk to her husband by telephone for 10 minutes a day, and she couldn’t tell him — or the rest of her family — anything about how she was doing.
“He never knew if I was safe or if I was eliminated. There is a very strict contract,” she said.
“But I would recommend this for any golfer who has the ability. It’s definitely a great experience. It’s very unique, and it’s something that very few people ever get a chance to participate in. It definitely taught me a lot about who I am as a person and what type of game I have under pressure. Believe me, you definitely learn to take one shot a time.”
Stoelting, 27, graduated from Florida Southern College and was a member of the 2007 NCAA Division II national championship team. She finished 11th individually.
After graduation, she pursued a professional career on the Symetra Tour — the former Futures Tour — which makes a local stop every year at Capital Hills at Albany. She was 12th on the 2011 Symetra Tour money list, and this past season was 22nd on the Symetra Tour money list, with five top-10 finishes.
She earned LPGA conditional status by finishing tied for 38th in the most recent LPGA Qualifying School.
“2013 was my year, on and off the golf course, that’s for sure,” she said.