MADISON _ The harsh weather during the winter of 2014 and the fact that the snow and chill were lingering into spring prompted Madison's Carley Hopton, the 2013 and 2014 Morris County Girls Golf Tournament champion, to make a decision.
Hopton thought it was time to head south, where the warmer, sunnier climate is more conducive to her passion.
So, at the end of last August, Hopton left New Jersey to attend the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
"I realized if I wanted to be ready for spring, I had to practice all winter," said Hopton while home on spring break. "I couldn't do that here. I've had this in my mind for awhile. It was tough leaving. It was hard being away from my family. I was nervous about making new friends."
Now, seven months into her stay at IMG, Hopton, a senior, knows she made the right choice. She has adjusted well and already has taken her game to a higher level.
She attends school at the academy and spends much time honing her skills. There are days when Hopton plays nine holes before classes. Other weekdays are spent at the driving range. On the weekend, she will go out and play again.
Hopton has been rewarded for her commitment. Her scores are consistently in the 70s. In January 2015, she shot a career-best 72 in an IMG Junior Tournament at Laurel Oak Country Club in Sarasota. She followed the 72 with a 74 and 79 and finished third.
Off the tee, Hopton has gained 15 yards and currently hits her drives 235 to 240 yards. She consistently gets her approach shots on the green. What Hopton, who plans to major in sports psychology in college, feels has aided her most are the mental sessions.
"The mental part of the game was a struggle before," Hopton said. "We have classes every week and we're told what to think about while playing. We're told not to try and control the uncontrollable. It's not beneficial to worry. You just have to move on."
Being away from home, Hopton said, is "a good feeling." She has more confidence in her abilities and enjoys being independent.
Thus far, Hopton, who competed for the Dodgers boys squad, has not chosen a college. She might take a gap year to perfect her game even more at IMG and then go on.
By leaving Morris County, Hopton won't have a chance to tack on a third MCT title but she's OK with it. She shot a 38 to capture the nine-hole championship on the Flanders Valley White Course in 2014. Hopton prevailed in the 2013 event - the inaugural tournament - with a score of 39.
"I'll miss being there," she said.