There is a picture of Ellie Slama from when she was about 9 years old.
Slama, now a freshman at South Salem High School, is standing with Deanna Salvatori and Gigi Stoll after one of the many junior golf tournaments in which they competed.
It took one high school tournament for Slama to prove that she still belongs with Salvatori, a senior at Sprague who was fifth in the state last year, and Stoll, a junior at Beaverton and the state medalist two years ago.
In the SAY Invitational last month at Santiam Golf Club, Slama placed second with a 79, four strokes behind Salvatori.
Although Slama has been playing with top-caliber players such as Salvatori and Stoll since she could barely walk a fairway, it still was rewarding for her to see that she can compete with them on a new stage.
“That was cool because Deanna was a senior and I didn’t think I was going to be that close to her,” Slama said. “She’s a really good player, and I really admire her.
“I just thought I’ll go out there and try my best and wherever I’m at I’ll be happy with. I was right with her in the first couple holes and got one or two strokes behind and thought I could actually be up there.”
Slama is far from your average freshman high school golfer.
Slama estimates — and it’s a conservative estimate — that she’s played in 150 golf tournaments in her lifetime.
Of the couple hundred golf courses in the state, there are only a couple dozen at which she hasn’t played a tournament.
“Her parents have done a great job in getting that experience for her,” South Salem coach Brian Eriksen said. “She steps in and has more experience than a lot of people who are playing golf in high school right now.
“She knows what the tournaments are like, she knows what to expect on the course, and she knows that she just has to play her game. She’s rubbing off on the other girls, too. The other freshmen know that Ellie expects a little from them as well.”
Her older brother, Tim Slama, started playing golf at age 8, and she started tagging along and tried out the game.
Before long she was competing, too.
“Towards the beginning I just went out there and I just played and I didn’t care what I shot,” she said. “I started getting better and practicing.
“All of a sudden I was right there with the girls in the lead. It sort of got to me, it was like I can continue playing golf and do pretty well. Now I practice every day with my brother and my dad.”
Slama has tagged along to watch some of her brother’s high school tournaments over the past couple years — he’s a junior at South Salem and placed third in the district meet last year.
She said she likes the social aspect of golf between her and her opponents, which is in contrast to the boys.
“It’s pretty intense between the guys,” said Slama, who runs cross country and swims for South Salem. “They don’t talk much and it’s completely different than the girls.”
There is a sibling rivalry with Slama and her brother.
If they’re playing in the same tournament and she scores a birdie on a hole and he cards a bogey, she’ll make fun of him.
“When it comes down to things, he’s a really good brother, and he’s the whole reason I started playing golf,” Slama said. “I owe him a whole lot.”
Slama is one of eight freshmen playing for South Salem this season, and most of them she has been friends with for years.
She has known Kaitlin Paluska since elementary school and Maddy Peterson, Sammy Belden and Makenah Gentry since middle school.
Although Slama became South Salem’s unquestioned No. 1 golfer as soon as she joined the team this year, she doesn’t act like it.
“Not at all,” said Maggie Flood, South Salem’s lone senior this year. “Honestly if you just observed our team for a practice, obviously other than watching us play, but just how we interact. I think no one thinks they’re better than anyone else.
“I have experienced this with both Ellie and Abigail (Heringer), they both don’t ever talk about good they are. It’s kind of awesome because you notice how good they are and you know that they’re that good, but it makes it way better when you’re also friends with them and they make you feel like you’re just as good as them.”
Slama will get a brief break from playing the game next week when she travels to The Masters, although she won’t miss any high school tournaments.
“It’s going to be amazing,” Slama said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Depending on whom you ask, you may hear Slama has a different strength.
She thinks her strength is her ability to drive on fairways. And she thinks her putting ability is a strength.
“Her strength is her short game,” Eriksen said. “She hits the ball well, she hits it long, but short game she can put it close to the pin better than anyone I’ve seen for South in the last five years.”
You’re not going to find any holes in her game, either the physical or mental components of it.
But she’s still the kind of player who will hit 200 chip shots a day just because.
Slama doesn’t seem like any other freshman you will ever see play high school golf.
“I still feel like a freshman,” Slama said. “Even though I am, I’m a little more experienced than the other girls playing. I’ve played years and years and it’s their first year.”
bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6701 or follow at twitter.com/bpoehler