By Rick Assad
Every day offers an opportunity to make choices. Most of the time they are fairly mundane like what to have for breakfast, lunch or dinner or what to wear that day.
Sometimes they are more complicated and demand deeper thought because they are more important.
In the case of Maddie Riggs, she had to choose whether to play a sport she loved or switch to another upon entering college.
This was a real dilemma because Riggs was a gifted soccer player for four seasons at Burroughs High, leading the Indians in scoring and assists during her junior and senior years and was voted All-Area first-team both seasons.
“Maddie was tenacious as a soccer player,” said her father, Brady Riggs, who is the Burroughs girls’ soccer coach. “She was the consummate leader, always training at full speed, playing through injuries and demanding that level of commitment from her teammates.”
But Riggs also excelled on the Indians’ golf team across four seasons, earning All-Area first-team as a senior. For good measure, Riggs was a member of the softball squad as a freshman.
So when Riggs, the Mike Torres Award winner which is given to the most outstanding two-sport female athlete at Burroughs, stepped foot onto the campus of the University of California Irvine, she had a weighty choice to make.
Riggs, who redshirted her freshman year, 2017-2018, opted to play golf and has flourished.
“In high school, soccer was my passion,” she said. “I had played soccer at a high level since I was eight years old and dedicated my entire life to the game.”
Riggs went on: “After I got a severe concussion my sophomore year I realized my soccer career would have to end eventually,” she said. “That was when I shifted my focus to college golf. I still love the beautiful game, but my future and my passion now is in golf.”
With the world on pause because of COVID-19, Riggs has been impacted.
“The safety of my family and I has been the priority so my time spent at golf has decreased dramatically,” she noted. “I have been putting on a mat in my room, hitting into a net in my backyard and working out consistently. Once courses opened a few weeks ago, I have practiced at the range, but haven’t played much golf. I’m trying to be as prepared as possible for the Western Amateur in Illinois at the end of July, which I will play in if it is safe to travel.”
Riggs, who tries to emulate the competitive attitude of Danielle Kang, a three-time winner on the LPGA tour including the Women’s PGA Championship in 2017, is entering her third season on the Anteaters’ team.
“I love golf because all the responsibility is on me. What attracts me most is I do not have to rely on teammates for success,” said Riggs, a Public Health Policy major who shot a career-best, 1-under par 71 at the Rebel Beach Tournament and finished a career-best, in which she tied for 10th place in the Gold Rush tourney hosted by Cal State Long Beach. “My success is determined by how much effort I put in, not how hard the rest of my team is working.”
Coincidentally, Maddie’s father, a PGA Top 100 Teacher, has also had a hand in her success at UCI.
“My role is twofold,” he said. “First as her golf instructor teaching her all the technical aspects of the game and making adjustments to her mechanics as necessary.”
Riggs added: “That has now evolved into becoming her golf coach, supervising her practice sessions, helping her with strategy and learning the subtle nuances of playing on the highest level,” he said.
Riggs, a National Golf Coaches Association All-American Scholar, said her father’s experience and guidance has been a blessing.
“Having my dad as a coach is special to me. We have always had a great father-daughter relationship in sports and to have a coach who knows my golf game and me as a person better than anyone is a huge advantage,” she said.
Golf is demanding and exacting, but Riggs has been able to come out ahead. “Golf is a tough sport to master because it is challenging both technically and mentally,” she said. “You can have great technique, but you have to learn how to score which takes experience during competitive rounds.”
How does Riggs, who took golf seriously at age 16, attack a hole?
“I am a conservative player and I base my decisions on percentages,” she said. “For example, each club has a specific dispersion, so I aim based on how wide my miss is instead of going directly at the flags.”
What’s the one thing that Riggs can lean on at the course?
“The best part of my game is my ability to trust my shot shape and commit to intelligent targets,” she said. “I play a fade, so the ball curves left to right and it is consistent with all my clubs.”
Riggs has been able to play well because she isn’t concerned with the other players.
“Chasing the leader adds pressure, but you cannot control how they are going to play so you have to focus on what you can control which is the next shot,” she said.
Riggs hasn’t played in front too often, but thinks that there’s pressure.
“I haven’t been in the lead very often, but I think it would be easier,” she explained. “As the leader, the tournament is yours to lose or win instead of coming from behind which requires other players to not play as well.”
Golf is a game of patience, which Riggs has. “One trait that makes me excel at golf is the mantra my dad has told me since I was little: “the only thing you can control is your effort and your attitude.” I apply this to all aspects of my life, but it is especially valuable in golf.”
Riggs continued: “I put all my effort into every round of golf regardless of if I am having a good day,” she said. “And it is even more important to have a good attitude on the course when you’re struggling. I never give up on a round and I think that mentality of grinding gives me a competitive edge in golf. I have to give soccer some credit because regardless of the score during a game, you never give up and that’s what I do in golf.”
Though lofty, Riggs in time would like to join the LPGA tour. “I believe that I can play on tour. I have only been playing highly competitive golf for a short amount of time and feel I have not reached my full potential yet,” she said. “I know that I have the work ethic and technical ability to play on tour. I just need more experience in competition.”