It would be nearly impossible for Mikayla Dubnik to remember much about the first time she took a swing with a golf club.
She was 3 and her father, Don, would take her to the driving range at the Chattahoochee Golf Club, while her mother, Lisa, tended to the needs of their infant triplets.
At the time, it was a way for the two to spend some time together.
Golf was secondary.
Little did he know at the time, he was a grooming a future star, now one of the best girls high school golfers to ever play in Hall County.
“It’s very rewarding to see how well she’s done,” Mikayla’s father said. “She’s put a lot of time and effort into getting better and it’s paid off.”
Those early experiences for Dubnik, swinging away with a little plastic golf club, were a way of forging a meaningful bond with her father. Fifteen years later, the two are as close as ever and never far apart — whether it’s on the golf course or making the many trips to play in junior tournaments or for private instruction she receives.
North Hall girls coach Rodney House said that Mikayla and her father speak their own language without words on the golf course.
“Mikayla kind of feeds off him and they’re very tight with each other,” House said.
Now a senior for the Lady Trojans, Dubnik has continued to rely on her entire family and a close support system as her golf game took off over the years.
And on Dec. 7 those years of hard work paid off as she inked a full-ride scholarship to play golf at Mercer University, starting next fall.
However, Dubnik still has unfinished business at the high school level with the Lady Trojans in 2021 and desperately wants to wash the bad taste out of her mouth from having her junior season end on March 13, due to the coronavirus pandemic, after winning her second county title.
“I have a blast with the girls on my team and practice is never boring,” said Dubnik, who was second individually and part of the second-place Lady Trojans at state in 2019. “I think we have a chance to be really good this season.”
For North Hall to make a run at the championship this spring, it will depend a lot on Dubnik, who burst on the scene as a sophomore and posted a tournament-record 68 at the Hall County championship. The Lady Trojans also have a strong No. 2 with Lyric Sanford back this spring.
House said that Dubnik has a work ethic that’s hard to match.
Once the 2020 season ended so abruptly, Dubnik did quite well balancing online school with time on the course.
Even now, with the season still a couple months away, Mikayla’s out on the course several days each week and preparing for every event on the schedule.
“I think if the season started right now, Mikayla would be ready to go,” House said.
Dubnik’s first year at North Hall was as a sophomore in 2019, one year after winning the Class 6A Alabama state championship at Hartselle High, which is about 75 miles north of Birmingham.
House heard the buzz about his new golfer coming from Alabama, but truly didn’t know Dubnik’s passion for golf before meeting in person, which happened at a football game.
One of Mikayla’s first events with the Lady Trojans was at Apple Mountain Golf Club in Clarkesville.
She was unfamiliar with the course, so she was probing for as much information as possible, House said.
Even though it was her first time playing Apple Mountain, which will host the Class 3A state championship this spring, Dubnik was frustrated by finishing in second place, 1-shot back from the winner.
Mikayla said her focus and drive to get better comes from her father.
Now, Don doesn’t so much play golf with his daughter. Instead, he helps her scout and plan the best approach to be successful.
And if it’s a course Mikayla’s played before, she’s got an innate ability to visualize where every shot needs to be placed and what club to use.
She even writes out course notes and keeps it in her pocket, if she is unsure of something while playing.
“The best part of Mikayla’s game is how hard she competes and she wants to be out there on the golf course,” House said.
And Dubnik, who started school at Mount Vernon Elementary before her family moved to northern Alabama, learned early in her high school career how to conquer adversity, in a hurry, on the golf course.
As a freshman, she recalls vividly closing it out on No. 18 to earn the individual state championship, despite her heart beating out of her chest.
The last hole didn’t start well for Dubnik.
She pushed the tee shot out of bounds and was forced to take a drop inbounds and was assessed a penalty stroke.
From a steep hillside, with the ball below her feet, Mikayla made a nearly-perfect fairway shot. The ball came to rest 12 feet from the cup, which she drained to win the state title.
“That was a nervous and then exciting moment for our entire family,” her father said.
Dubnik said her main hurdle now is minimizing the nerves that come with a sport, which can be filled with so many highs and lows in just one day.
For that, she travels with her father regularly back to Birmingham, Alabama, where Dubnik has a swing coach, Brian Speakman.
Dubnik is also a client of renowned sports psychologist, Dr. Bhrett McCabe, who has worked with many PGA Tour professionals and is the performance instructor for the University of Alabama athletic programs, according to his personal website.
She said working with esteemed professionals has reduced the stress related to the game and fear of making a mistake.
“If you do something well or make a mistake, you have to move on,” Dubnik said. “It’s been a big help to the mental side of golf”.
Even when Dubnik isn’t able to make the trip to Alabama to meet with her swing coach, she’s able to send him video and get feedback.
“I look at a lot of things with my coach,” Mikayla said. “I’m focusing on my flexibility and learning to improve my rotation. Plus, working on delivering the club on a better plain.”
Once the high school season rolls around, Dubnik said she’s really looking forward to having the Hall County championship at Royal Lakes. She said it is a more challenging course to post a low score.
Dubnik said she is clamoring for the chance to chase a state championship — both individually as a team — in 2021.
House said she has a great chance of having a season to remember.
“Mikayla is the kind of player you want,” North Hall’s coach said. “She’s an awesome player and awesome as a student. Mercer is getting a great player!”