In the middle of sectionals, Phil Stielow had to tell Grace Miller not to worry.

Not about her own game, about someone else's.

The Meridian/Decatur Christian golfer finished up the round alright, making state with an 83 at the Lincoln Sectional. But she kept asking Stielow how the scores were going, part worried about others shooting well, part worried how she'd place on the leaderboard.

"She genuinely cares about everybody else and wants to know how they're doing," Stielow said. "One of her friends didn't shoot too well, and she was kind of down about it.

"We kind of had to tell her, don't worry about her. Even though she's competitive, she wants everyone to do well that she knows."

This summer, the DCS junior decided to commit full-time to golf, which meant a full slate of summer play. Miller was solid last year, reaching sectional play, but she's lowered her scores significantly, routinely shooting in the low 40s and occasionally dipping into the 30s.

It's helped turn a sport she begrudgingly played growing up to one where she's practicing upwards of five hours a day.

"I wanted to make golf my thing, and I made it my thing," she said.

The social butterfly in Miller helped transform her game as well. Looking for a better putting stroke, Miller found one she liked in the summer.

She found Sacred Heart-Griffin golfer Emily Eades, who uses the method AimPoint Express. It's a form of putting to read the slope of the green by using your feet. Once golfers get a feel for that, they hold up a certain number of fingers to the hole to figure out where to aim.

"I kind of thought, I could do that," Miller said. "She made a bunch of putts, and then I went to the Futures all three days and a bunch of them were doing it as well. So I looked it up, and taught it to myself."

For the first month, it wasn't pretty. But something clicked shortly afterward.

"She was reporting scores to me, scores of courses I know pretty well," Stielow said. "And I'm thinking, man, that's what I'm shooting on a good day."

It's helped balance out her game that's typically been carried by her driver and irons.

"Her ball-striking off the tee and her approach to the green are great. She never gets into any trouble," Stielow said. "If she's putting really well and she's chipping really well, she's going to be in a great position."

The plan's gone well so far. Miller's said at the beginning of the season, not only was state a goal, but there were a couple of thresholds she wanted to meet once she got there.

"I worked on every piece of my game," she said. "I wanted to get to state this year. Top 50, top 30."

It's something most people would have raised their eyebrows at, but Stielow said he's seen her consistently hit her marks. He gave her the most improved golfer award twice, and now she improved her sectional score from last year to this year by 16 strokes.

"I mentioned to her it's real hard to get most improved two years in a row," he said. "I think she took that as a challenge.

"She's motivated. She's a goal-setter."

Now she lands the one home-field advantage Decatur has in state tournaments.

Between Red Tail Run and Hickory Point golf courses, there's a chance to use knowledge built up throughout the years on high school's biggest stage.

With her game trending in a positive direction, Stielow said Miller and her dad played Red Tail a few more times in the latter half of the season. Red Tail's not Miller's ideal course -- one where bombers can use the wide open space to erase yardage -- but using her accuracy to avoiding the prairie will go a long way to moving up the leaderboard.

She's also been game-planning for perhaps Red Tail's biggest guardian, the wind.

"If there's wind like there is today, it could be a pretty big factor," Miller said. "They cut the fescue down, which helps. You do not want to be in there."

And Stielow said Miller, who plays much of the season against male competition, should be just fine with the pressure of state.

"I think she plays better when she's with better competition," he said.

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