One captured the State B golf championship, others earned a medal at the State AA tournament, and another was just outside of the top 25 at the State A tourney. All had something in common: they were just seventh-graders.
Suffice it to say, that the future of girls’ high school golf in the state has a very promising future.
“A big thing for these kids is those South Dakota Golf Association Junior Tours. A lot of those young kids are getting into that,” said Miller coach Karren Rogers. “If you go look, it doesn’t matter AA, A or B, I’d say those top 10 kids for sure, if you look at any of those names, they’re out there on those tours in the summer. That’s been a huge thing for the sport of golf and these young kids, get them out doing those, so they’re used to competing.”
Rogers saw first hand this spring what the seventh-grade field is capable of doing. Miller’s Jayce Pugh was a force all season and then rallied to win the Class B individual state championship earlier this month.
While some may have been surprised that a seventh-grader won a state title, Rogers was not.
“Jayce, first of all, has worked very hard. This isn’t an accident that she is where she is,” Rogers said. “She’s worked hard, especially the last couple of years.”
Pugh wasn’t the only area seventh-grader who had a big season. Olivia Braun and Emma Dohrer of Aberdeen Central both finished among the top 25 golfers to earn all-state distinction at the Class AA tourney. Claire Crawford of Aberdeen Roncalli tied for 26th, just out of placing at the Class A tournament.
While the seventh-grade class took the state by storm this spring, Pugh saw this coming.
“I know those seventh graders. I played the SDGA Junior Golf Tour with them and they’re all very competitive,” Pugh said. “It’s fun to golf with them.”
Pugh made a major adjustment that allowed her to pull off a come-from-behind victory.
“Day one I was really nervous and I was just really hoping for the best. My putting was not really good day one,” Pugh said. “Day two I came back and my putting was one of the reasons that I won.”
Rogers said that recognition of having to putt better allowed Pugh to storm back after trailing by six strokes after her first nine holes and by three strokes after the opening round.
“She came back and the amount she 3-putted, she cut that in half,” Rogers said. “She was aware that the day before that kind of got her in trouble. She really had that as a goal to cut those down.”
Having put in the time in the off season gave Pugh the confidence that she could complete the comeback and earn a state title, despite her youth.
“I knew I had a really good chance going into the state tournament seeded number one,” Pugh said. “I’ve put a lot of time into golf to have the chance to win. We had a simulator so I practiced all winter on it.”
While Pugh was able to get over the hump, another quality golfer came up just short as Sisseton’s Kelsey Heath finished one stroke out of first place at the Class A state tournament.
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I was done. I obviously was a little disappointed I couldn’t finish with a win, but it was a really good experience,” Heath said. “The first day I played how I wanted and the second day I wasn’t able to play how I wanted to. I still had a good time. That’s all that mattered.”
Heath made up two strokes on the final hole, and came very close to forcing a playoff.
“It was actually really crazy,” Heath said. “My third shot hit the pin. It could have gone in.”
The senior got a close look at a number of seventh-graders this season (including Rylan Horning of St. Thomas More who finished fourth at the State A tourney) and knows the potential that they possess.
“I think it tells us that there’s a lot more great golfers to come. They’re working hard and I think it’s really good to get this sport some more publicly,” Heath said. “I’m really excited to see where they all end up. They have a lot of potential. I’m excited for this sport.”
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