Prairie golfer Stilwell has a drive to succeed

Hard work turns Prairie senior into top-notch golfer

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 
photoTwo years ago, Prairie's Jamie Stilwell had a round of 67 for 9 holes. Two weeks ago, she set a school record by shooting a 1-under-par 35.

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Prairie senior Jamie Stilwell started thinking about the possibility just minutes after making a birdie on the third hole at The Cedars on Salmon Creek.

She had never finished a nine-hole round of golf at par, or under par.

The pressure — pressure she put on herself — was on.

• • •

Jamie Stilwell's journey to this possibility started a couple of years ago. Her coach at Prairie High School, Paul Shapard, remembers her scorecard from a particular round. Stilwell, then a sophomore, shot a 67 for nine holes.

It was after that sophomore season, when she normally shot in the mid- to high-50s, when Stilwell decided golf was going to be her game. The scores were not ones associated with an exceptional golfer, but her attitude was right on par with the best.

"It was something I knew I could be better at," Stilwell said. "Being as competitive as I am, I had to take on that challenge."

• • •

After opening her round with two pars in a three-team match against Camas and Evergreen on March 26, Stilwell launched her tee shot that landed middle-right on the fairway at the par-4 third hole. She would use her 5-hybrid for her approach.

"I whacked it pretty great," Stilwell recalled. "It (finished) about 12 feet from the hole, and I drained the putt."

She was 1-under after three holes.

"If I shoot par that would be amazing," she thought to herself. "I have some wiggle room. I could bogey one and still shoot par. But how cool would it be to be under par? I started thinking that on the next hole."

Some, maybe even most, instructors would advise their golfers to not worry about the overall score during a round. Just go hole-to-hole, shot-by-shot. Yeah, whatever. That's not Stilwell.

"I like pressure. I really do well under pressure," she said. "Whether it's serving in volleyball or when I'm putting, I just thrive under pressure. I'm really competitive with myself."

So she motivated herself the best way she could, by telling herself the goal was to finish under par. Stilwell's best previous score was 3-over-par. But this was the round she was going to obliterate her personal best. This was going to be her day.

"I had pressure on every shot," she said. "If I messed up one shot, there goes my score."

• • •

It is her competitive streak that pushed her to wanting to beat her dad, Mike Stilwell, in a game of golf.

"He can't even keep up with me anymore," she proudly proclaims.

Last year, even after that rough sophomore campaign, Stilwell's goal was to be the No. 1 player on the team. And make it to state. She threw herself into the game, taking lessons from Harold Bluestein at Tri-Mountain Golf Course.

"That man is a god to me. My swing used to be so messed up," she said.

She was not an overnight sensation. Instead, she put in the hours at the range, at the putting green.

She played one last season of high school volleyball for the Falcons as a junior, but then did not play club volleyball. It was all golf, all the time.

Her decision paid off on the course.

Last spring, Stilwell made it to state and even made the cut, finishing in a tie for 32nd with teammate Amanda Poore. With Poore graduated, Stilwell is now leading the Prairie golfers, even helping them with their swings. Stilwell is the example, the proof that one day a 67 could turn into the 30s.

"You can do it. It just requires some effort," she said. "You'll see drastic improvements every minute you put into this game."

• • •

No. 5 at Cedars is one of Stilwell's favorite holes. It turned into her toughest challenge of the day, though. She was off-target on her approach. She managed to hit the green, but on the upper tier, "the worst place you can be," she said.

Later, she would call it home-course advantage. Players who had never been on that course would miss the putt badly, she said. The break in the green is severe, yet hard to notice for first-timers.

She read the break just right, and the ball settled close to the cup for a tap-in par.

"That's when it started hitting me — 'I can do this,' " Stilwell said.

Three more pars on 6, 7, and 8 led her to the final hole of the day. Her approach shot landed 25 feet from the cup. She was two putts away from breaking par.

The first putt was not her best attempt, though, the ball coming to a stop four feet from the hole. Considering what was at stake, it was four very long, nerve-racking feet.

"I took some serious time," she said, when focusing on that last putt.

Normally, she hits the ball and then looks, to see it go in the hole. This time, she just could not bring herself to watch. She kept her head down and just listened.

"When I heard the ball hit the hole, I was crying on the inside," she said.

There were more tears of joy that day.

"It was just really calming, and the pressure was off. I couldn't wait to tell my coach. He will be so happy," she said. "I knew 'Shap' would cry. He did. He's known for his emotions."

"Of all the kids who have come through this program, for her to get the school record, especially where she came from, it's exceptional," Shapard said.

The girls program started in 1989 with Shapard, and he cannot recall any player shooting under par.

Until now.

• • •

It was a two-hour round, but it was two years' worth of dedication.

Jamie Stilwell made a commitment that this would be her game. Next year, she will be playing golf at Concordia while studying to become a nurse.

Two years ago, it would have been difficult to fathom Stilwell going to college for golf.

She challenged herself.

Then proved that, indeed, she thrives under pressure.