LACEY — Jade Gruher turned in her scorecard early Wednesday afternoon as the leader in the clubhouse at the Class 4A state girls golf tournament with a two-shot advantage after shooting 70-71 at Hawks Prairie Golf Course.
Then the Union junior waited. And waited. And waited some more.
As the championship tournament format dictated, individuals like Gruher were among the first groups to tee off Wednesday morning while players who qualified for state with their whole teams drew the late tee times. With golfers in the final group like Jacinda Lee (Camas) and Amber Li (Newport) within two shots of Gruher entering the day, the lead was far from safe.
When the final group walked up to the 18th green, Gruher was conspicuously absent from the gallery of spectators.
The reason? She was at the practice area working on putting and chipping, staying warm in case someone rallied to tie and force a playoff. Also, Gruher admitted it was a conscious effort to take her mind off the uncertainty of the scores still trickling in hours after she finished.
“I was trying to get away a little bit because I was (like), if I just stay at the green, I’m going to be nervous myself … I don’t know what I would have done,” Gruher said. “I walked away, went to putt and chip a little, just in case if there was a playoff, I would’ve been prepared … It was a little nice not to be at the 18th green waiting, just not knowing where they stood.”
When everyone convened back near the clubhouse, Gruher got her answer. She and her group checked their phones for the final results to discover her lead stood unchallenged. By shooting a combined 141 across two rounds, Gruher won the individual state championship by two strokes ahead of Redmond’s Nicole Cato (143) and Li (145) in third place.
In the end, those anxious hours were part of the experience for Gruher in her first state appearance, following two years without state championship events during the pandemic.
“I was just speechless,” Gruher said. “I wasn’t really expecting to win at such a big tournament, and it was really nerve-wracking just waiting … I was just amazed and excited.”
Camas, meanwhile, finished second in the team standings behind first-place Newport by just three shots. The Papermakers were led by the top-five finishes of Lee and Jasmine Chen, while Susannah Gillespie, Callie Wengler and Ella Kim also contributed to the final result.
While golfers representing the likes of Newport, Camas, Issaquah and Bellarmine Prep were also competing for their team titles, Gruher was in a good spot because she could put all of her focus into her own game, Union coach Gary Mills said.
“She was in a great position in that she went off early,” Mills said. “She was in a group of other individuals that were good players, so it was kind of like, if she took care of business within her group, we kind of liked her chances because those people in the back, there’s a little more pressure on them trying to play for their team title.”
In Gruher’s case, a pressure moment confronted her early on the second hole Wednesday morning when she hit a shot and was unable to find the ball. Still, she managed to salvage a bogey, one of two during the round, to go along with three birdies.
“It was a chance for the round to derail a little bit or an early, ‘Oh no,’ and she found a way to make a bogey there, even after losing the ball,” Mills said. “After that, we knew that we were still in it.”
A key moment also came on the par-4 15th hole when Gruher made a birdie putt while Cato, who was in the midst of a charge up the leaderboard with four straight birdies, settled for bogey. A subtle fist pump from Gruher after making the putt was indicative of the momentum swing.
“I just kept with it and finally toward the end I got one to drop. I was like, just par out and I’ll be fine.”
Gruher also got a boost from the group that followed her through Wednesday’s round including her coaches, family, her teammate and best friend Emma Sasse and the majority of the Union boys golf team, which was competing in the 4A state tournament nearby at Olympia’s Indian Summer Golf & Country Club.
“It meant a lot, I really appreciate them coming out and just (being) here to support,” Gruher said. “And knowing, if (I hit) one bad shot it was OK and they just cheered me on the whole way.
“It was really nice to have it up here as an individual and not having a team.”
Gruher called her first trip to state “an amazing experience” and hopes next season she will be joined by her Union teammates, none of whom are graduating at the end of this season.
“I’m really excited to get it going next year, just hoping the team can come up and share the moments that we have,” Gruher said. “If they don’t make it, it’s all right because I’ll still come up and represent them, but I’m hoping, because they really improved, that we can all come up as one.”