Local golfers ace competition

SNOQUALMIE - Jess Sanford has been around golf since she was a baby, either hanging out at the various courses her dad, John Sanford, has worked at, or by caddying for him since the age of 12.

But this week the roles will reverse, and he will have the chance to cheer her on at the 3A state golf tournament at Homestead Farms Golf Resort in Lynden.

Not only has Sanford, a freshman, been golfing since she was a kid, she is the youngest on the Mount Si team and was the only member to make it to the state meet.

The road to state was a competitive but short one. On May 15, she golfed in the 3A Sea-King District golf tournament at Snohomish Golf Course and shot a 104 on a par-74 course. Breanna Minnitti of Holy Names won with a score of 80, and the next 11 golfers shot under 100.

One week prior to that, she and three of her teammates, Stacey Shultz, Erica Jepson and Rachel Keinath, played together in the 3A KingCo League golf tournament, which was held at Taylor Creek Golf Course in Maple Valley. There, Sanford shot a 106 on the par-70 course.

She said she didn't expect to advance to the state meet.

"I was pretty surprised at district," Sanford said. "I didn't plan on going to state. I was thinking, 'Nope! It's going to end here,'" she said.

Her coach, Michael Johnston, said Sanford's success can be attributed to her willingness to be coached, and the hours that she has put in to improve.

"She began the season shooting nine-hole scores in the 60s and was able to bring that down to the 50s, and even one round of 49," Johnston said.

He also said Sanford had an excellent opportunity to display improvements to her game at the district meet, where she needed to finish in the top 25 in order to advance to state.

That didn't seem to pose a threat for the freshman. She placed 19th out of 50 people.

It also didn't matter to her that she would be playing 18 holes, instead of the nine she was used to in her league.

"My dad told me I'd get pretty tired, but it wasn't as bad [at district] as I thought it would be," Sanford said.

The state competition begins Monday, May 21, where she will compete against 79 other girls. After that, the field will be narrowed to 40 golfers, who will play on Tuesday in hopes of being named state champion.

"I want to just make it to Tuesday. After that, It doesn't matter," Sanford said.

She credits her success to the influence of her father, her personal golf hero and part owner of the Mount Si Golf Course.

"I've been around it so much I had a good feel for how to play," Sanford said

Cedarcrest golfer Michelle Whyman also qualified for the state tournament. She took seventh place in the 50-person field at district, behind some of the best golfers in the state. She scored a 96 on the par-74 course. Last year she did not advance past the league meet.

"I actually had a really terrible round at league, so I didn't make it to district," Whyman said.

This year at league, Whyman placed 10th by scoring a 95.

While a young girl, she also learned about golf from her father. Then she played in the Carnation Junior Golf program and also at Tolt Middle School before starting on the newly formed Cedarcrest team last year.

Her goal is to place in the top 10 at state. But her coach said the important thing is to survive the first day.

"You never know with golf," West Garr said. "You have to make it through that first cut."

When asked about the difficulty of playing a longer course, Whyman said she liked playing 18 holes, although it will be a challenge.

"The 18 holes is a toll," Garr said. "The state course is newer, difficult and the 18th hole is a par-five green on an island."

Garr said the girls' have had to play nine-hole courses all year because it is difficult to get in enough playing time after school before it gets dark, and because of the amount of time it takes to play nine holes.

Garr helped start the new team last year. He said he has noticed big improvements in the girls' golf program throughout the state, which provides more opportunities for the girls.

"More and more small colleges are opening teams. It opens more spots for girls to get even partial scholarships," Garr said.

Cedarcrest's Katie Williams and Shawn Gordon also qualified for the district tournament by scoring in the top 27 spots at the league meet. Williams finished in 24th place with a round of 105, and Gordon shot106, good enough for 25th place. However, they did not place in the top 25 at district. Williams will be keeping Whyman company at the state meet, however, as an alternate.

She said she played a good round at district, but that she needed to overcome a "jinx" she has placed on herself when it comes to hitting well on the first and last holes.

"It's the pressure. The short game kind of killed me," Williams said.

She, too, played in middle school and still enjoys the sport.

"It's both mental and not overstrenuous, and I like to hit 200-yard drives," she said.

Gordon has also enjoyed golf ever since middle school.

"I like the feeling of the power you get if you hit the ball correctly," Gordon said.

Garr knows that the higher they go in competition, the more fierce the play.

"They're going up against some tough girls at state, ones that will even shoot at par," Garr said. "Their learning how to play under stress."

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